Richards thrilled to lead Women’s Golf
Martha Richards plans to prove that author Thomas Wolfe was wrong -- that you can come home again.
Richards left a Vanderbilt University women's golf program she built into national prominence to return to Texas where she was an assistant coach under Susan Watkins from 1998-2000. Richards becomes the third women's golf coach in Texas history.
"There is something very special about Texas, academically and athletically," said Richards, who was head coach at Vanderbilt from 2001-07. Her team finished sixth in the NCAA tournament in 2007. Her Commodores earned a fifth-place finish in the NCAAs in 2004. She also was recognized as the National Coach of the Year in 2004.
"When we finished at the NCAA Tournament this year, there were three schools that approached me about becoming head coach," Richards said. "They were Georgia, Texas A&M and Texas."
Who made the first contact?
"Texas about five minutes after I walked off the course at the NCAAs," Richards said, with a hint of a laugh. "There was a message from Chris Plonsky (women's athletics director). She had the quickest draw."
It helped that Richards had been an assistant at Texas and was well aware of UT's allure.
"The level of commitment to women's sports at Texas is unparalleled," Richards said. "You see that in the UT Golf Club, which is a world-class facility."
Richards, a native of Hudson, Wisc., was a two-sport athlete (golf and basketball) at Stanford, earning All-America status in golf in 1993 and being a part of the national title team in basketball in 1990. She spent two years (1995-96) on the LPGA Tour before returning to Stanford as a volunteer assistant. Richards became head coach at Boise State in 1997 and came to Texas in 1998.
"When Martha was an assistant here," Plonsky began, "you could already see that she was going to have an impressive coaching career. Everyone admired her and she made wonderful contacts in the Austin golf community, contacts she still has today.
"She understands the great demands placed on student-athletes in high-profile programs. Martha also understands what it takes to excel. I believe our golf program has a tremendously bright future under her leadership."
Richards, who brought along Tracy Parsons, her assistant at Vandy since 2004, said she wasn't really looking to leave the Southeastern Conference school in Nashville.
"I had created a nice life for myself in Nashville," Richards said. "I would be remiss if I didn't say that it was a difficult decision to leave the program that we worked very hard to build into a national contender.
"I appreciated my time at Vandy because there were such tremendously gifted student-athletes, great colleagues and a great golf community there. Nashville really embraced the Vanderbilt golf program."
When Richards talks about the gifted student-athletes, she isn't only talking about their performance on the course. She had 23 All-SEC Academic Team selections during her time there.
"I had three civil engineering majors on my team this past year," she said.
Richards also brought Vandy to the NCAA Tournament in her second year. It was the school's first trip ever to the NCAAs.
Ironically, one of the people at Texas who helped Richards in making the decision to accept the head coaching position was Gail Goestenkors, the new UT women's basketball coach.
"I appreciated having the chance to talk to her and she was very giving of her time, as we talked for about two hours," Richards recalled. "I wanted to see exactly what Texas did to make her leave Duke."
Like Goestenkors, Richards hasn't had one second-guess moment on her decision to return to Texas.
Asked if she seriously considered Georgia or Texas A&M, Richards admitted that Georgia "had a shot."
"They were very nice and very interested," Richards said. "But having to make the trip from Athens to the Atlanta airport was going to be too much. We're on the road so much that we'd be making that trip a lot. I never want to be more than 30 minutes from the airport."
And Texas A&M?
"Well, it would have been hard going there after being here (at UT)," Richards said, with a hint of a laugh. "The University of Texas gets into your blood."