By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - They spend countless hours evaluating opponents and prospective student-athletes, studying video, listing strengths and areas of improvement. But ask the coaches of Auburn's women's sports teams to turn that analytical spotlight inward, and you get.... crickets.
Even softball's Clint Myers, who almost always has something to say, is suddenly silent.
"It's difficult to talk about myself," says Myers, who has led Auburn to back-to-back Women's College World Series appearances. "I don't usually do it."
Same thing for soccer's Karen Hoppa.
"It's hard to talk about yourself," says Hoppa, in her 18th season.
Realizing that the camera won't stop rolling until the question is answered, Auburn's coaches eventually take a stab at introspection.
But even then, they're quick to talk about others.
"I surround myself with people who are smarter than me," says Myers, praising his assistants. "People who have the same type of mentality of family, of being able to teach. I know who I am. I'm at peace with that. I don't try to put a facade on.
"It's never just about one person. It's the people you surround yourself with," Myers says. "And then you bring the players into it. They buy in. Their mentality becomes an extension of yours. It's just not about one person. Auburn is not about me. Auburn is about us. I'm proud to be part of `us.' It's not about me. It's about Auburn."
Hoppa, who led Auburn to its first Sweet 16 appearance in 2015, says she tries to create a family atmosphere for her program.
"And I love these kids and I always want what's best for them. They hopefully know that," Hoppa says. "I think that's one of the reasons that they will play so hard for me and for us as a coaching staff. They know that our heart is in the right place.
"I'll tell them, `I'm not going to be perfect,'" Hoppa says. "I'm going to make mistakes in the course of the season just like they will. But my intentions will be perfect. I will always do what I think is best for the team."
Tennis coach Lauren Spencer, who also led her program to Auburn's first Sweet 16 appearance this spring, uses a similar strategy.
"I try to make sure I always keep what's best for them in mind. Sometimes, that's not always what they want. But it's always what they need," Spencer says.
"And have them understand that this is a partnership to buy into what we're trying to say, that this is what's best for you, and you might not really see this right now, but we promise that you will down the road.
"I do treat them as though they're my own children. And I always want to be a good, strong female role model for them. I always want to make sure I make the right decisions, not just for myself, but to be a good role model for them."
Equestrian's Greg Williams, whose team celebrated SEC and national championships in 2016, sees his strength as a coach in the first virtue of the Auburn Creed.
"I've tried to do everything through hard work," Williams says. "I tell them from the beginning, they've got to be willing to plant a seed for a tree they're never going to shade under.
"That's critical. They have to buy in to Auburn. They have to buy in to making Auburn a better place, and it has to be about the other 39 girls, more than themselves. Do all of them get it? Absolutely not. But the ones who do are what is making champions. And keep pounding that through, time and time again. Now we see all of that taking hold. And I think that's why we're going to be good for a long time to come."
Getting the team to buy in to the coach's vision is also one of the keys to Jeff Graba's success in gymnastics.
"The main thing we're trying to do here is to instill accountability for our athletes. Allowing them to have control of the program," Graba says. "They're going to pull us farther than I can push them.
"So the goal has always been to get to the point where they're actually dominating the conversation. They're pushing each other and pulling the program forward, and I don't have to be the one behind pushing them. I can be the one who's, now, thinking about all of the other stuff, trying to make us better in all of the other areas. So I think that's been the pivotal thing for our program, to move from a pushing program to a pulling program."
Surrounding yourself with excellent assistants. Putting the student-athletes' interests first. Casting a vision and encouraging buy-in. Qualities that are helping Auburn's coaches enjoy some of the greatest success in program history.
Basketball's Terri Williams-Flournoy adds one more to the list.
"I don't know what are my strengths, but I know I hate to lose," she says.
"It's just a passion for the game. I just love the game. It's not just the excitement from the win, it's just seeing our players able to say, `We really played hard. We really played great.' To see the excitement in their eyes. I think it's really just a passion I have for the game. I just love the game and love coaching."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer