Coming home: Coaching, family bring Ezell back
Belmont women’s basketball head coach Brittney Ezell grew up in Franklin, Tenn. and went to Belmont basketball camps as a kid. Now, she’s in her first year at the helm of the program. Coach Ezell sat down with Vision staff writer Katie Greene to talk about her coaching background, high expectations, and life beyond basketball.
Could you give us a little background about yourself? I was born in Nashville, raised in Franklin, Tenn., went to Franklin High School, went away to the University of Alabama and played two sports. I got a degree in business, went away to the University of Nebraska and got a degree in Sports Administration. I started coaching when I was 24 and went back to the University of Alabama as an assistant, then became one of the youngest recruiting coordinators at the age of 26. I took over my own program at Okaloosa-Walton in Destin, Fla., when I was 28 and was there for three years. From there I went to Montevallo, Ala., for two and here I am!
What made you want to play basketball back in Franklin? I grew up in a neighborhood of all boys–that’s what you did. My daddy played college football and my mother was a homecoming queen along with being a basketball player, so I had the best of both worlds. I was always competitive. I think I was born that way. I always wanted to be first. It was a gift given to me. When I was about 6, my mother went to sign me up [for basketball]. They said they didn’t have a girls’ league, so she said, “That’s fine, I’ll just coach a boys’ team!” We won the league four years in a row, so my mom is probably who you need to be interviewing. She’s the real coach in the family.
Who were some people that supported your decision to become a coach? Truthfully, my parents tried to steer me away from education and coaching. My parents were both educators. Once I decided that coaching was for me, they were ultra-supportive. There was a coach that recruited me out of high school; her name was Dottie Kelso. Dottie actually died during my recruitment at age 35. She was from Lewisburg, Tenn., played at the University of Alabama and she’s what really got me interested in Alabama. When I visited there, I felt her spirit, so now when I coach, I always feel like I am honoring her. And then, I would say my brothers; they would always come to me for advice, and I always felt like I was coaching them.
What made you decide to take the step up to D-1 and coach at Belmont? I didn’t apply for this job, I was sought out for this job, which is a big feather in mine and Coach Hodges’ caps. We’ve been together almost 10 years, and it was a no-brainer for me to come home. I’m a family person, but it was a good opportunity for him and his family, and it’s the perfect size we had been looking for. I don’t have any desire to be on the front of ESPN the Magazine. I don’t want that life. When you look and see what somebody like Rick Byrd has done and how he has made a life and career here at Belmont, you’d love to follow in those footsteps. Seeing his longevity, along with the other coaches’ longevity, really factored into coming here.
What expectations of yourself did you have coming into the season? It goes back to being ultra-competitive. I expect not to lose. We were brought in to try to change the culture, to try to infuse some passion and life into the women’s program. It’s like any musician, you’re going to start out as the opening act, and then you hope to be the headliner. We’ve been an opening act for a long time, and rightfully so. The headliner we play for is fantastic, but we’d like to be co-headliners. It’s a daily process. We have a mantra with our kids— win today. Win a fan in every class, make sure you’re prepared, make sure you’re testing well.
Have you met those expectations? No. I don’t think I ever meet my own expectations to be honest. I set them so high that they’re almost impossible to reach, and I know that about myself.
And what about the players? When I took this job, I told [the players] that I wasn’t going to watch tape. The only thing we’ve asked our kids is to come with the right level of effort, and the right attitude. Our big focus is in everything you do, every choice you make, the program comes first. Protect the program.
Have those expectations been met so far? I think they’ve made them on certain levels. On other levels, I think we might be underachieving, and I think a lot of that comes from the cliché, “paralysis by analysis.” They paralyze themselves by analyzing themselves too much, and I think we all do that to some extent. It’s like you have a task so daunting and so large, that you don’t know where to begin. So, for the most part, yes, but there’s always room to grow.
What have you and your staff learned from the first half of the season? We’re learning about the competitive spirit of our kids—what buttons to push to really get them motivated and find that spark of passion that you need to be really good at the Division I level. We’re learning night in and night out that anybody in our league can beat you, but that also, we can beat them. We are learning that there is a community and a student body, faculty and staff that want to support us. I think the outpouring of support has been great, but we’re looking for more reasons to get people to the games.
Just for fun, what are some things that you and the team do for fun outside of basketball? I try to ignore the team as much as possible outside of basketball. They’re all goofy. Just kidding! My staff and I are in this office more than we care to be. When we go on road trips, they like going shopping, movies, we go bowling. They just like sitting and having a conversation—they’re pretty engaging kids. But, like every coach, when you lose, you don’t want to be around them. I tell them, “I’ll always love you, but there’s just certain times I don’t want to be around you.” They’re very personable. Whitney Seals went out to Gigi’s and bought me cupcakes for my birthday, and they’ve been calling all morning. Julianne Downs even took me out to lunch. They’re all good kids.