Miami basketball’s winningest coach almost wasn’t a coach at all.
Katie Meier, after playing three seasons in Belgium, returned to her hometown of Wheaton, Illinois, in need of a job.
Meier’s time in Belgium was worthwhile. In addition to her playing career, she was an English teacher to housewives and businesspeople. She even worked at a carpet factory and for USRobotics.
Her versatile background opened the door to many career paths, but Meier’s calling was in basketball, just not as a player.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to coach … my friend Joanne Boyle, who played at Duke, who ended up coaching at Cal, coaching at Virginia, coaching at Richmond said, ‘Listen, I just did an interview at UNC Asheville, and I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t really know what the job is,’ – but she was going to take a different job – ‘but I gave your name’ and I was like, ‘Great’.”
UNC Asheville called Meier, a Duke graduate, while she was working at the Blue Devils’ camp. The school wanted her as an assistant compliance and assistant academic advisor, but under one condition.
“Can you coach some,” UNC Asheville asked. Meier replied with unsurety but was swayed after an additional $3000 was offered to her.
And alas, Meier’s career had begun, but not without uncertainty.
The Bulldogs fired the head coach that was in place when Meier was hired. The basketball team was in disarray, coming off a horrid 0-27 season. With no program direction or prior college coaching experience, Meier, like any new coach in that situation, was destined to fail.
Ray Ingram, a former coach in Europe and interim head coach of the 1993-94 Bulldogs, noticed early on in his tenure that Meier wasn’t like any other new coach. She was knowledgeable, courageous and incredible at talking to and communicating with both the players on the team and potential recruits.
Ingram likened Meier’s early coaching prowess to James Brown’s 1969 song, “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Just Open Up the Door I’ll Get it Myself).”
“That’s Katie. She came in with me. We took what we could get,” Ingram said. “It was just that personality. Her being able to go on the road with me, talk to these kids and talk to their parents and then come back. She was like the Band-Aid. I was an old-fashioned military guy, and I could be a little bit rough around the edges sometimes and Katie could smooth that over. She just had everything that we needed and everything that a coach is supposed to have.”
“For a first-year coach, are you shitting me?”
With Meier working alongside Ingram, UNC Asheville improved tremendously. The Bulldogs finished 13-14 in the season following their winless campaign. Throughout this year, Meier established herself as a budding star, and it wasn’t long before she moved on to her next stop.
“Towards the end of the season when she came apologetically and said, ‘hey coach I’m mostly likely going to take another job.’ It’s like, I had players in Europe that were good players, and I wish that they could’ve stayed with me forever. But they were better than the program where I was,” Ingram said. “I have no problems saying, ‘hey, go for it.’ Katie, you could see early, she was the whole package and that has turned out to be the case.”
In this one season at UNC Asheville together, both Meier and Ingram learned important lessons from each other that stuck with them throughout their separate coaching paths.
Ingram’s “living the dream” mindset taught Meier the importance of gratitude. Meier’s warm personality gave Ingram a blueprint on how to form healthy relationships with his players.
“Probably what I got most out of Katie was her demeanor and her connection to the players … I’ve learned from Katie how to still be the coach, still have that distance, but be friends with the players, and that is a tough line,” Ingram said. “Up until about 10 years ago, one of my goals was always be able to go on the court and show the kids what I wanted them to do rather than just tell them what I wanted them to do, and I had Katie back then that did that, and it worked. I got the most from her personality.”
Meier became the assistant coach at Tulane before accepting a head coaching position at Charlotte, and later Miami, where she led the Hurricanes to their first-ever Elite Eight appearance.
She’s amassed over 300 wins at Miami, navigated 12 postseason berths and guided 25 of her players to further their dreams of playing professionally.
But as Ingram said, it’s the relationships that Meier has formed with her players that have made her stand out.
“She’s gonna try to make you a better person when there’s no basketball. Try to enlight you, try to educate you, not only basketball-wise but just anything. She’s just gonna make you feel like you’re not just a basketball player. Not just a player that’s dribbling the ball but actually trying to develop you into a woman after college,” said Destiny Harden, a sixth-year senior at Miami. “You don’t just get that coach feeling but also like a mother-to-daughter type of relationship with a coach.”
Fellow Miami senior Karla Erjavec shares a similar view of her coach.
“A very personal relationship since I’ve stepped foot on campus. A very family-like relationship,” Erjavec said. “I’ll never have enough words to explain how much our relationship has meant to me. [Meier has] been with me through my ups, through my downs, through the middle of it. She’s just such a role model that you can lean on no matter what.”
UNC Asheville’s decision to pay Meier an additional $3000 to start coaching has impacted the lives of many, and it’s this profound impact that Meier’s had on those she’s come across that will live on long after her career is over.
“As good as a coach as she [is], she’s a better person,” Ingram said. “That’s Katie.”
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