For Sherri Coale, it begins with passion … for everything

OU coach Sherri Coale walks the sideline during the Sooners' Feb. 27 game against Iowa State at Lloyd Noble Center.

Why basketball?

Given the geography of her upbringing, Sherri Coale thought that was a pretty good question.

“Growing up in Healdton,” the Oklahoma’s women’s basketball coach said, “it sure could have been anything, because you did everything.”

Yet, basketball it was and, about that, there’s plenty to say and Coale hit on that topic and many others during a recent Q&A that begins a little lower on this page.

Always a terrifically thoughtful talker, she was in her usual fine form even as the probing went a little deeper than the state of her basketball team and the program she’s guided from obscurity to a trio of Final Fours and an ongoing run of 17 straight NCAA tournament trips.

And it is for those accomplishments, but not solely those accomplishments, that Coale is entering the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame during a ceremony that takes place tonight in Knoxville, Tennessee.

A player at Healdton High School and Oklahoma Christian, a head coach at Norman High School and OU, she’s been in the game pretty much forever — or since the third grade as she explains below — and here she is, newly immortal, sort of, even if she still feels as she enters the Hall of Fame “like the underdressed kid in the store.”

But it is no mistake.

Everything she’s done in the game, everywhere it’s taken her, all the wins and the losses, too, she’s come by them honestly.

Tonight, she’ll enter the Hall alongside contributors June Courteau and Bill Tipps, coach Joe Lombardi and players Jackie Stiles and Natalie Williams. And, while everybody in Coale's induction class surely loves the game, too, they can’t possibly have attacked it and loved it and reckoned with it and waded deeply into it with more … oh, let’s go with zest.

Guy Austin is the OU women’s program director of operations. He isn’t only Coale’s scheduler, but it’s a whole lot of what he does, and one of the things he’s thankful for is her schedule is not his.

“Probably her energy level, because she goes 100 miles an hour and there’s something in every minute of the day,” he said, reaching for Coale's strongest impression. “I don’t know how she gets it all done; trying to grow professionally and individually, making time for her family, she fills every day.”

And it’s not like any of that stuff is back-burner stuff. There’s no back-burner stuff. Coale lives a front-burner life.

“It’s just her passion for everything involved in her life,” said Chad Thrailkill, an assistant on Coale’s staff since 2004. “Her passion for her family, passion for players who played for her, passion for learning the game.

"She never stops learning and I think that’s one of the big things for her. She’s just got that passion for becoming better than she can be and a passion for making people better around her.”

Even a fairly impartial scribe understands that passion flows from her pores.

Many coaches turn it off.

They turn it off during their down time, they turn it off when speaking to the media — Bob Stoops, hello — they turn it off when they’re anywhere they don’t want to be. Coale is never where she doesn’t want to be. Thus, she is never not engaged, connected, involved.

She’s not one you speak to in passing. With Coale, you converse.

“She’s happiest and at her best when she’s doing,” Austin said.

Many of us don’t care for our jobs. Many of us enjoy elements of our jobs, but put up with lots we could do without for the stuff we like the most. If there’s a part of the job and life Coale’s created she abhors, it remains unknown.

“She loves what she does; I think she’s motivated by it daily,” Thrailkill said. “She loves coming to work, and I think when that stops, that will be the time (she leaves).”

But nobody sees that time coming, Coale included.

“I can’t imagine not doing this, because this is what I love to do,” she said. “Even when I have time off … My kids grew up with ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, those were the channels that were on. There was always a game on. 

"It’s what I love.”

It has taken her a very long way.

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