By: Kyle Isaacs
In basketball, one of the toughest tasks to accomplish is effectively transitioning from offense to defense, and vice versa, over the course of a game.
If done properly, a team will garner better results and win more games than expected.
While the on-court transition may be tough, transitioning from one coach to another can be just as difficult.
Yet that is what the Xavier women’s basketball team must do this season as it welcomes its newest head coach to the fold.
In his third season with Xavier as an assistant coach, Brian Neal will take over the reins amidst a transitional period and will be in charge of turning the program around once more.
Neal will enter the season as the interim head coach, though no official word has been released regarding the coaching position from Xavier.
A former head coach at Thomas More College, Neal will begin his first season as a head coach at the Division I level following the resignation of former head coach Amy Waugh.
During his stint at the D-III level, Neal compiled a 171-31 record in seven seasons, which included six consecutive 20-win campaigns. Neal received the Presidents’ Athletic College Coach of the Year award four times and was named the Great Lakes Region Coach of the Year on two separate occasions.
Neal’s success did not come solely in the regular season, as evidenced by Thomas More’s five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
When asked about the biggest challenge posed to an interim head coach, Neal mentioned the perception of his position to the players.
“You have to get them to look at you as a head coach,” he said. “It’s important for them not to view you as a substitute teacher.”
However, Neal was quick to point out that the players have been very receptive to him, particularly because of the seniors on the team.
“The seniors have been great,” Neal said. “They are the key to the transition because if they buy in, then the other players will follow suit.”
He said that the X’s and O’s strategy component of the Musketeers will not change despite the transition.
Neal, who majored in journalism while in college, got his start in coaching at D-III Wilmington College, where he took a low-paying assistant position.
“I knew right away that this is what I was meant to do,” Neal said.
Following his time at Wilmington, he moved on to an assistant coaching position with Northern Kentucky University.
After six seasons at his alma mater, Neal moved across the state line to become an assistant with Xavier under Waugh.
“I made the move to Xavier because I had the opportunity to move up to the D-I level and I loved the Catholic values of Xavier,” Neal said.
Though he will be replacing Waugh, Neal discussed the importance of keeping a consistent program and sticking to the plan that they developed the past few years.
“I worked closely with (former head coach Waugh) and we have thought out exactly where we want to be,” Neal said. “We will stick to the plan that we developed.”
That plan has been fostered over the past two years, when defensive-savy Neal first joined the Musketeer staff.
Prior to his start, Waugh was effusive with her praise of the now-head coach, and said he “has a proven track record of maintaining a tradition of success within a program.”