Richmond Hill native Andy Sharpe has had plenty of success in his seven years as a head college basketball coach at the NAIA level.
Sharpe, 32, has a 170-68 record at two schools, Emmanuel College and Martin Methodist College, and led Martin Methodist to national prominence in NAIA circles.
But this season marks a change for Sharpe, who played point guard at Richmond Hill High School for icon Jimmy Hires. He’s now at Southern Arkansas University, a Division II school in Magnolia, Ark.
Sharpe is off to a winning start in his first season leading the Muleriders, who compete in the Great American Conference. He recently took time to answer a few questions via email.
Q: First, congratulations on getting the job at Southern Arkansas. What made you decide to move on from Martin Methodist?
A: I felt like we had hit a ceiling at Martin Methodist. We had had the most successful two-year stretch in the history of the school and I was at a point that I felt I had turned that program around and the next logical step for our program was to consistently compete for deep runs in the national tournament and national championships, and I wasn’t sure that there was a commitment to provide our program what we needed to do that.
I was also looking to move up in the coaching industry and move under the NCAA umbrella. I was interested to see if the success I’ve had in the NAIA could translate in the NCAA.
Q: What differences are there between coaching at an NAIA school and an NCAA Division II school?
A: There are many more rules within the NCAA. There are stricter academic guidelines our student athletes must adhere to. There are also restrictions during the recruiting period which limit the number of in-person contact periods I can have with a recruit. We are also limited in the number of hours per week our players can practice, lift weights and participate in conditioning drills.
There are also periods of time during the semester that we cannot do anything basketball-wise with our kids. Another big difference is we can only play in 26 games. The NAIA allowed us to play in up to 30 games.
Q: You’re in your ninth year of coaching — seven as a head coach — and have enjoyed a lot of success. How have you changed over the years?
A: I have mellowed over the past nine years and I choose my battles a little more carefully. Early on I fought every battle. Times and kids have changed dramatically in even the nine short years I’ve been coaching.
On the basketball court, for the most part, I do the same things I’ve always done. We try to focus mainly on defense, play extremely hard, and play transition basketball. One thing I am beginning to discard is a pressing defense.
That style worked better in the NAIA due to the fact that most teams don’t have great depth. Once you get into an NAIA team’s bench, a pressing team can really put some distance between the two. What I’ve learned in the NCAA is that almost all teams have really good players on the bench as well. All teams are deep, so we have begun to go away from full court trapping and pressing, which is what made us so good at Martin Methodist.
Q: You’ve gotten off to a pretty good start. What are your expectations this year? What kind of team do you have?
A: This first year at Southern Arkansas will be challenging. We have nine new players that we recruited and signed once I took the job at SAU. The culture here within the basketball program is not one of success. SAU has not had a winning season in a decade. I’d really be pleased to see our team continue to get better as the year progresses. We want to play our best basketball in January and February. The Great American Conference is a really tough and deep conference. We will have our work cut out for us to compete with the upper half of our conference. Hopefully by February we are starting to peak as we head into the conference tournament. We have hurdles to overcome as a team. One is that we are severely undersized inside. Typical NCAA post guys are 6-feet-8 and up. We are on average about 6-6 inside. We do have pretty good depth at the guard position.
Q: What’s one non-cuss word you don’t like hearing players say?
I really dislike the current state of the NBA. I think it has ruined what basketball really is. I also think AAU has damaged basketball because it dilutes what really matters most to me anyway, wins and losses. Many AAU teams play two and three times a day in tournaments and summer leagues. The NBA plays 80 something games. I think the number of games played waters everything down and it doesn’t really matter if you win or not. I don’t like hearing my players make excuses. I think excuses are for losers. Find a way to do your job as a player. If I don’t do my job as a coach, my AD will replace me. If my players dont do their jobs and 10 make excuses about why they didn’t do their jobs they will not play for me long.
Q: What exactly is a Mulerider?
A: The story behind the Muleriders is that long, long ago many of the basketball players had to ride mules to some of the further away games. They would ride mules about 10 miles to the train yard and then hop a train to the games. After the game, they’d walk back to the tracks, hop a train back to where they left their mules tied up and then ride the mules back to campus.
Q: If you weren’t coaching basketball but had to be a coach, what sport would you coach and why?
A: I think I’d make a pretty good defensive coordinator for a football team. Being that I’m a defensive minded basketball coach I think it would translate well over to the football field. I enjoy the blitzing 3-4 defense Coach (Todd) Grantham has installed at UGA. Defensive coordinators have to have that fire in their belly all the time and I feel I coach with that fire in my belly.
Q: If you couldn’t coach, what would you do?
A: I’d try to have a career that would allow me to still be around young people. I enjoy building trust and relationships with young people and getting the opportunity to greatly impact their lives in positive ways.
Q:. If you could say one thing to your mom and dad, (Tim and Rebecca Sharpe of Richmond Hill) what would it be?
A: I’d say thank you for raising my sisters and me how they did and where they did. Growing up in a Christian two-parent home is and was such a blessing. They did everything in their power to be involved in our extra curricular activities and I as a parent myself realize how difficult it is to balance everything. Growing up in Richmond Hill in the 80’s and 90’s was really great. I went to school with the same classmates grades K-12 and played little league baseball at “The Bottom.” Times were different.
Q: It seems everyone involved in sports watches ESPN. What’s your favorite show on ESPN and why?
A: I love the 30 for 30 specials that ESPN does. If I’m not watching ESPN I’m spending time with my kids Asher, who will be 3 in January, Ava, who is 2, and Addie-Jayne, who is 4 months. They give me perspective. I realize after a tough loss that in the big scheme of things it really doesn’t matter. It also takes special, special women to be coach’s wives. My wife Mandy is an unbelievable wife and mother.
Q: Do you have a favorite NBA team? If so, what team and why?
Being that I dislike the NBA, I really do not watch. I root for the Dawgs and the Falcons in football and of course the Braves in baseball.
Note: This interview was conducted earlier this month. At the time, the Muleriders were 3-3. They’re now 5-3 overall and 2-2 in conference play. You can keep tabs on Sharpe and his team at www.muleriderathletics.com.