Edniesha Curry did not set out to be a trailblazer. But make no mistake about it: That’s exactly what the former Oregon and WNBA star is.
Curry is an assistant coach on the University of Maine men’s basketball team. She is the lone female assistant coach in all of Division I men’s college basketball, and the first in a staggering 16 years. She’s the fourth woman in history to serve in this role, following the footsteps of Bernadette Mattox, an assistant at Kentucky from 1990 to 1995; Stephanie Ready, an assistant at Coppin State from 1999 to 2001, and Jennifer Johnston, an assistant at Oakland from 1999 to 2002.
“I love the game of basketball,” Curry said. “For me, truly, it’s just about impacting someone’s life.”
The 5’4″ former guard reluctantly entered coaching after her WNBA career ended in 2006. She started out helping coach youth programs in Oregon, and then developed her coaching chops overseas. In 2015, Richard Barron — who, at the time, was the head coach of the Maine women’s basketball team — hired Curry as a full-time assistant. She spent two seasons there, before being accepted into the NBA Assistant Coaches Program. There, she had a chance to work with aspiring NBA players. In 2018, when Barron was hired as the head coach for the Maine men’s team, Curry — who is often called “Coach Eddie” — was one of his first calls.
While the team struggled on the court, Curry said that, for her, the season was a complete success. She experienced nothing but love, support, and respect from players, coaches, competitors, and recruits. That response makes her incredibly optimistic that it won’t take another 16 years for a woman to follow in her footsteps.
“It’s a different time and a different era,” Curry said.
Earlier this month, Curry spoke to ThinkProgress about her unconventional path to history, double standards, private locker rooms, and why the WNBA is responsible for a culture change.
ThinkProgress: Did you grow up dreaming of being a coach?
Edniesha Curry: Hell no. (Laughs.) I thought everybody was crazy when they said I was born to coach. I was about 23 or 24, in my second or third season playing professional basketball. I would come back between seasons in Europe and stay with my former college coach and agent and train in Oregon. They had a really top AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] program there, and I would help with that.
My former college coach, Michael Abraham, from Cal State Northridge, he would say, “You can be a college assistant right now. I can get you a job. You’re born for this.” He and I had a great relationship. So I would talk to him like this: “Coach, hell no. It’s just fun to give back.”
But after a couple years of giving back and doing it, I started realizing that I’m really good at this. It was something that naturally came to me. I always tell people it’s like a purpose. It’s a calling.
TP: Your first full-time coaching job in the United States was with Barron on the Maine women’s team, and the team was very successful. What made you leave that job for the NBA Assistant Coaches Program?
EC: Yeah, it was my second year on the women’s staff, and I was just looking for, honestly like, some professional development. My friend told me about the program, I put in all my paperwork, resumes, did all my interviews, and I got picked to be a part of the 2017 class. And from there, it just kind of took off.
This is now my third year. I’m now a mentor to the coaches. I’m the tech person. I help all of the former WNBA and NBA players who currently are pursuing coaching careers learn about all the technological software that we have to know and understand, as a coach, on and off the court.
TP: Back in 2017, were you the only woman in your class?
EC: There were women who came before me, I believe, but in 2017, I was the only woman in that class. In 2018, there were two women. And then this year, in 2019, there are four women — it’s the biggest class ever for women.
I just came back from [the NBA Assistant Coach’s Program in Portsmouth, Virginia,] with everybody. For a week, you know, 10 days, we were all together, crunching it out and getting better. And it was nice to see the balance of women and men in the program, growing together. It creates a good synergy, a good change, to see that women and men can work in the same environment and learn through their love of basketball.
TP: When you first were accepted to be a part of the program, were you thinking about coaching men?
EC: You know what, I’m gonna answer this question as honestly as possible: I don’t see gender. I honestly only see myself as a coach. And if there’s an opportunity for me to impact men or boys, and that’s the best opportunity for me, I’m going to take it. If it’s women and young girls, you know, I’m going to take it.
I guess it comes from, if I go back to when I started this journey in Oregon, I had been coaching little boys and girls. I was an AAU coach for young boys, and then when I went internationally, where you guys couldn’t see me, I would help with the national team men’s coaches, and mentoring young men that wanted to be coaches.
I love the game of basketball. For me, truly, it’s just about impacting someone’s life.
TP: Obviously, that’s the ideal — that everyone sees the equality and value in women’s and men’s basketball. But there have only been four female assistant coaches in the history of DI men’s basketball, and you’re the first since 2002. Why do you think that is?
EC: It comes down to decision-makers. If you have, let’s say 350 Division I schools, and 345 ADs [athletic directors] are males, come on. [Ed. Note: According to the most recent College Sport Race and Gender Report Card, 89.5 % of ADs in DI schools are male.] That’s just the reality of it. Everyone hires their buddies, you know, male, female, like-minded — you know, we’re in a relationship business.
“I know, with the continued push, there will be more women in coaching, there will be more opportunities.”
Until the top changes — at universities and everywhere around the world — you’re gonna be at a law firm, and there’s going to be that one woman; you’re gonna go on ESPN, and there’s going to be be that one woman. And until we start shifting the mindset of women to pursue these positions, and then when they get into these positions, to hire that woman that they know is the bomb, without fear, and stand by them, then it’s always going to be like this. It’s always going to be just one woman. Because not everyone’s comfortable with women, especially in my position.
It takes courage, you know? I’m blessed that I have an unbelievable relationship with Coach Barron. For him, he’s said in articles before, that it was a no-brainer to hire me. He said, “I’m hiring the best basketball coach I know for our program.” But, like I said, it takes courage for men to think like that.
It’s easier to think about what could go wrong, versus all the great things that are going right. People look at me and question, “I wonder what it’s like on the road? Is it hard to travel?” But, of course, no one ever questions when there is one male head coach on a women’s basketball program surrounded by women. But they will question Edniesha Curry, you know? “Wow. She’s travelling with all the men. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute.”
TP: How was your first year with the Maine men’s basketball team? Was there anything about it that was difficult or surprising?
TP: It was really just the same as coaching the women?
EC: Yeah, it was the same. I mean, the only thing that was different was when I walked into each stadium, I got escorted to my nice private locker room, which, you know what? It was not that bad to have your own locker room. I kind of enjoyed it. You know, my own little space. I could meditate before the game, play my music. I mean, it was awesome. The guys would be like, “Coach, where’s your locker room?” And I was like, “I have the luxury locker room, I’m gonna go there.”
I’m pretty sure there are people that don’t like it, you know, that may hide behind a blog. But those are not my people. So I don’t worry about it.
TP: What’s next for you? Is it time for Head Coach Curry?
EC: (Laughs.) One day. One day, head coach. But what’s next for me is recruiting for the University of Maine men’s basketball program.
TP: Speaking of recruiting, that’s such a huge part of your job as an assistant coach — have you experienced any pushback dealing with teenage boys and their families on the recruiting trail?
EC: No. Look, I feel like this is a cool thing about this generation — and I’m bringing the WNBA into this. There are so many WNBA players that have great young men that are now in high school, now in college, now even in the NBA. These young, young boys and young men grew up having the WNBA on. They grew up in a gym playing basketball, learning basketball, from women. They grew up around elite girls basketball teams in high school, as their college classmates.
So when I get on the line, and I’m talking to a recruit, half of my recruits know my story better than I do! I’ve talked to recruits who said, “Oh, I told my mom I was talking to you!” And then their mom is all excited. You know, it’s just a different — it’s a different time and a different era.
And I know, with the continued push, there will be more women in coaching, there will be more opportunities. It is changing. Even though we want more, even though it needs to be greater, we have to be patient with it. And we just have to continue as women, as hard as it may be, to keep battling. This coaching generation of women, we’re all going to look back and think like, man, remember when it was just five of us? (Laughs.) You’ve just gotta continue to be patient with it. And I think the more young women coaches that we see in the AAU circuit and the high school area circuit, it’ll build a foundation for more women that would like to coach collegiality. And I see that coming.