For three months, she sat around, dealing with her anger and her doubt. Opportunities for the next coaching venture weren’t knocking on her door after she was fired by Indiana University.
Felisha Legette-Jack understood why. In the world of college athletics, employers look at the bottom line of a coach’s resume – wins and losses. And Legette-Jack’s Hoosiers had fallen on tough times, going just 6-24 overall with one win in the Big Ten.
But Legette-Jack is a woman of faith who sees beyond the bottom line.
In her heart, she knew she still was called to coach.
“People see your wins and losses. They don’t see the spirit of that person. I didn’t get a lot of opportunity," Legette-Jack said. “I tried to fight it and I gave all the right answers but after I lost my job I was angry. I was disappointed in myself, in my staff, in my team. I had all those real emotions. I tried to suppress them and then I tried to figure out what’s next."
She trusted. She believed. She kept her faith. And then in June, she got the call asking her to be the next women’s basketball coach at the University at Buffalo.
“She won me over with her personality," Buffalo Athletic Director Danny White said. “She wins most people over with her personality and she carries herself with confidence, passion and high energy.
“More important was how she was retrospective in regards to her experience at Indiana. She really was able to critique what went wrong. She had success when she first got there and had a good handle on why things didn’t go as she planned. A lot of times when you go through those difficult experiences, you come out a better coach and that’s how we felt about Felisha."
Legette-Jack’s Big Ten experience jumps off her resume, but White was more impressed with her job before Indiana, when she turned around the Hofstra program.
“Her experience at the mid-major level is where Felisha had a unique background," White said. “She coached at Hofstra and built a program at a place that hadn’t had much success."
Her experience, passion and genuineness landed Legette-Jack in Buffalo. It was a new beginning, closer to her hometown of Syracuse. In turn, she provided a fresh start for a UB women’s basketball program that was mired in mediocrity and underachievement.
“I just knew I was supposed to be here," Legette-Jack said. “I was supposed to be the coach here. I was supposed to learn the lessons to teach these kids. I’m just so grateful and humbled. I’m enthusiastic and I want people to call me out. If I’m not giving enough energy for this team, I want the texts. I want the calls. Because I want to make sure we’re giving these young ladies all that they can get to be the best that they can be, because I know that I’ve been given an opportunity to grow this group and I take it very seriously."
New beginnings. Faith. Passion. They describe Legette-Jack’s approach to life and basketball and have become the cornerstones of reviving the Buffalo program. After a bumpy start and a 2-11 non-conference record, the Bulls found their groove in Mid-American Conference play.
They finished 8-8 in the MAC and earned a first-round home playoff game, hosting Northern Illinois at 2 p.m. today in Alumni Arena.
It took some time for the Bulls to mesh with their new head coach, who admits her energy will hit you like a ton of bricks smack in the face.
She wears her passion on her sleeve and her expectations are simple, direct and unwavering.
She knew her team would take some lumps in the early part of the season.
She juggled the starting lineup often, not just trying to find the right combination but at times to send messages to players about the way things were going to work on her team.
“We were trying to set a clear message that not only are we going to win but we’re going to win the right way," Legette-Jack said. “We’re not going to quick-fix this thing. We’re not going to overlook character or overlook being a great student.
“We’re going to take the game away from you if you don’t understand who we are, because this is not for me. I’ve already had an experience as a student-athlete. This is for you. This is to sustain you for the rest of your life.
“A lot of coaches coach the game to win the game today. I like to coach the game to win the game for a lifetime. You’re either going to get onboard or get off the boat. It’s that simple. This team decided that it’s worth it to give a try."
During the course of the season, her team responded to her energy, began to take on her personality and feed off her passion. It was evident in the level of commitment displayed in games as the season wore on. The competition level was better. The chemistry was better. Individual players – from seniors to freshmen – bought into the system and found themselves in better positions to succeed individually, which led to team success.
The defense is more solid and the offense has more flow. The Bulls look hungry on the court, crashing for rebounds and going after loose balls. But it’s not so much the basketball IQ that’s changed the program. It’s the attitude, and it starts with the tone set by Legette-Jack.
“She has so much passion for the game," freshman Mackenzie Loesing said. “She cares so much about our team and our success. She gives everything to this team and it drives me to do the same, to give everything to this team. When you’re around Coach Jack, you can’t help but want it and push yourself for her, for yourself and for your team.”
“She really inspired us to be our best this year and to have confidence in the decisions we make," senior Nicki Hopkins said. “When we come out, it’s not a sense of just another practice. We believe it’s another chance to give it our all. After a loss, we get the chance to begin again. We have a tomorrow and some people don’t always get a tomorrow. We tried to live by that this year."