Amber Whiting kept getting told that she should put her hat in the ring to be the next coach of the women’s basketball program.
She was her usual busy self at a recent basketball tournament, and the notion kept popping up in her brain. She saw former BYU assistant coach Chris Burgess at the tournament and talked with him about it.
But it was a conversation with her husband, Trent, that provided the final nudge. He told her that she so often put her family first, and maybe this was a time in her life that she bet on herself for a change.
That was the start of the process that eventually led to her becoming the new BYU women’s basketball coach. She and Athletic Director Tom Holmoe talked to media Friday for the first time since the announcement of her hiring.
“I am so excited for this and I just was grateful that they looked at me as for who I was and are trusting me with this because it’s a huge, huge undertaking and I am just excited for the opportunity to get after it and to get in the gym with the girls and to just start going,” Whiting said.
Whiting brings no college coaching experience, but has coached at the AAU level for 10 years and just led Burley High School in Idaho to a state title. She coaches her daughter, Amari, who is a four-star recruit and No. 32 among ESPN’s rankings of top girls’ basketball players who will gradate high school in 2023.
Whiting said seeing the preparation her husband did as a professional player in Italy is partly what gives her the confidence that she is ready to lead a college program. She watched film with him, read scouting reports, pored over set play after set play.
“Basketball is basketball,” Whiting said. “And yes, this is a different level. Yes, it’s a higher level. But I’m excited for that opportunity to be able to coach better players.”
Holmoe was quick to address Whiting’s lack of college experience and said what set her apart was having the “far and above the best overall plan of the candidates.” He added that being a college coach currently means having attributes that reach beyond just what goes on the court.
Holmoe said there were some candidates for the job that had more coaching experience than Whiting.
“But as you look at all the attributes that I feel are essential to this game, she could check all the boxes,” Holmoe said. “So where there might have been a candidate [whose] experience was up here and Amber’s might have been below that, that other person’s experience might have been below her in a number of other areas.”
Holmoe mentioned some former track and field BYU coaches who came with only high school experience and ended up in the university’s hall of fame — Patrick Shane and Craig Pool. But overall, he said the timing was right with Whiting.
“I might not have done this a week from tomorrow or last month,” Holmoe said. “But she came into this situation at the perfect time. There’s something to that. That feel was right.”
Holmoe also said he didn’t start the search process with a firm decision that he would hire a woman. It just turned out that way.
“We hired the best coach, and she happens to be a woman,” Holmoe said.
One of the questions surrounding Whiting’s hiring was what would happen with her daughter, who is verbally committee to play at Oregon. A sports reporter in Idaho tweeted Thursday that she spoke with Whiting, who told her that “in a perfect world, Amari would like to stay for her senior year at Burley.”
But on Friday, Whiting sounded as though the entire family was looking to make the move to Provo. Her son, Jace, will play basketball at Boise State. Her daughter graduates next year.
“We have to do this as a family,” Whiting said.
“We have to figure out what fit is going to be the best for her in Provo or the surrounding areas so that she feels good. But we realize, as a family, I think this is going to be the best thing for us to do.”
On her staff, Whiting said she is building it. When asked if any of Judkins’ assistants will be retained, she did not answer specifically, but said, “I have talked to all of them.” She added that all the assistants opted to go on recruiting trips this weekend.
Whiting seems ready to hit the ground running with the Cougars. She said she already has one-on-one meetings planned with the current players and feels she needs to “recruit” them. She also described herself as a defense-first coach.
BYU finished in the Associated Press Top 25 last season. It won tons of games under Jeff Judkins. The athletics program will enter the Big 12 in just about a year. It’s a big job, but Whiting wants to do it.
“I feel like every great coach has an opportunity to start somewhere, right? And this one’s mine,” Whiting said. “So I just want to give everything I have.”