Winning isn’t everything for St. Thomas women’s basketball coach Fred Connors, but he sure does it a lot.
Connors is in his thirteenth season as coach, and has an impressive 208-28 record in those years. Last year, women’s basketball at St. Thomas reached an all-time high when they won the CCAA silver medal at nationals.
Connors grew up in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and had his first coaching stint when he was in grade 11. His father coached him, and started Connors’s journey to success.
“He’s the one who instilled in me this passion for basketball, and this bizarre insane fetish I’ve got for building programs, and trying to win championships, and helping people out,” said Connors.
Connors played basketball at STU from 1996 to 2000 under Dwight Dickinson, who still coaches the men’s team today. Connors was the women’s assistant coach for two years, and when Jon Kreiner left, Connors became head coach.
In his past 12 seasons, he’s been in 11 ACAA championships games. Out of those 11 games, he won five championships. He’s won a silver and bronze medal on the national stage, but those aren’t his career highlights.
“They’re fantastic moments, but I think the amazing moments for me are some of the one-on-one conversations we’ve had with players, and some of the sharing that they’ve done of their personal lives that I can help them with,” said Connors.
For him, it’s about the relationships. His father instilled in him the desire to give back to the community and help people.
“A lot of coaches have given an awful lot to me to get here and I think it’s my responsibility to give that back,” said Connors.
The hardest part of a season for Connors is senior’s night, where the team honours its graduating players. Last year when Connors gave a speech about fifth year player Ashley Bawn, he had to stop at parts of his speech to fight back tears.
“I recruit girls, and I watch women graduate. That’s a rewarding experience.”
Ashley Bawn said she learned a lot from her five years playing for Connors. She didn’t just learn basketball skills but life skills as well.
“He just cares so much,” said Bawn. “He’s really taught me how to work with people that I don’t necessarily get along with, and work through my problems.”
As far as his coaching philosophy goes, Connors says he likes to keep things simple and focus on one game at a time. He said that way the pressure to succeed in such a strong program doesn’t crush his players.
One decision Connors said made his team stronger was eliminating zone defense from his repertoire. Six years ago he evaluated what he was using his practice time for, and what could be cut out. He felt practicing a zone defense wasn’t necessary.
“We play a very zone-ish type of man, a lot of switching, but we don’t play zone, so that saves time.”
Along with his five championships, Connors has won five ACAA coach of the year awards. He also won the CCAA coach of the year award in 2013. With that resume, it should come as no surprise that other schools have tried to get Connors to coach their team. Connors has given these offers serious consideration.
“It’s like I say to all my players: if someone from another university is offering you something, I think you should listen,” said Connors. He wants his players to weigh their options.
And Connors has weighed his options. He enjoys his teaching job at Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton. He said his family is in a good place. Though it’s flattering, he likes what he has.
“It would have to be one heck of a generous offer to pull me out of the city,” said Connors.