ATHENS - Whether or not Joni Crenshaw started out a serious candidate to be Georgia's next women's basketball head coach, she was after her interview, which was several weeks ago. Even then, Georgia officials waited to talk to other candidates, including one whose team made the Final Four.
But Crenshaw, the 36-year-old top assistant to retiring legend Andy Landers, wouldn't let up.
"We talked to a lot of other people. Joni just competed very hard for the position," said Carla Williams, Georgia's associate athletics director, who led the search to replace Landers. "She actually went out and took it. She earned it."
Crenshaw was formally introduced on Monday as the second full-time head coach in the program's history. Landers, who retired after 36 years, watched from the audience as Crenshaw started her tenure with a message. Or a plea, depending on one looks at it.
"I want to talk directly to recruits in the state of Georgia. You are our first priority," Crenshaw said. "Yes we will recruit nationally and go after the best talent ... But I want you in the state of Georgia to know that you are our first target."
Williams acknowledged that they interviewed at least one candidate from a team that was involved in the Final Four. Williams didn't name the candidate, or say whether that candidate turned down Georgia or the school just elected to go with Crenshaw.
"The program's not broken," Williams said, citing good academics, stability, and a good start to last season, which was derailed by injuries. "It wasn't broken. we always want to do better. I think coach Landers even mentioned that when he decided to retire. But I think Joni is a great, great prospect in her own right."
Crenshaw's recruiting credentials were mentioned often. As for her the other parts of the job, Williams cited Crenshaw's responsibilities in scouting and coaching as Landers' top assistant, and recommendations from other coaches.
One of those was Connecticut's Geno Auriemma, who knows Crenshaw through the recruiting trail. the national championship winning coach praised her confidence, among other things, and called her a rising star.
"In the interview she did a great job of presenting herself, talking about the program and the vision for the program, and what we really needed," Williams said. "We knew there were others we wanted to talk to. But we knew she would be a tough candidate to beat."
Landers did not have any imput in the interview or selection process, according to Williams, nor did he want any.
During the press conference, Crenshaw was asked for how her program would be different than Landers. The one thing she cited was perhaps being more up-tempo, but she pointed out that they had wanted to play faster in the past, but couldn't because of roster numbers.
Crenshaw was also asked if it was intimidating to follow someone like Landers, who guided Georgia to five Final Fours.
"Anytime you follow a legend it's scary. But I don't know of anybody better to do that than me, because I was able to follow him for four years," Crenshaw said, explaining that it gave her an appreciation for the program's history and what it did right. "I think it was important to find somebody who was able to continue all those things, and put their own stamp on it."
Crenshaw was very comfortable at the podium, in command, and it helped that she's 6-foot-1. (Or 6-3 in heels, as she pointed out.)
Those in the audience included Scott Stricklin, the athletics department's most recent high profile head coaching hire, as well as assistant men's basketball coach Philip Pearson, president Jere Morehead and many other athletics department officials.
She introduced her parents, and her fiance, who she noted is an assistant coach at South Carolina. There was knowing laughter from the audience.
Then Crenshaw looked at Landers, who was sitting in the back row, wearing light blue jeans and a red T-shirt, gnawing on a toothpick. She stomped her feet and composed herself before looking at Landers and thanking him for all that he'd done for her, and added:
"I love you dearly."