Megan Duffy is all business, all the time. She’s rigourous in her game-day preparation, fiery courtside and systematic in her post-game comments.
But, Duffy’s first thought after losing in the first round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament was more emotional than analytical.
“It’s hard to put into words that you’re not going to be practicing tomorrow,” she said at her post-game press conference. She was not herself.
Some coaches may have reflected on the season that had just ended, especially because Duffy led the largest turnaround in the nation as a first-year head coach. Instead, the realization of losing four seniors, ending her first season and being unable to practice for a few months had set in.
Without knowing the score of any given game, it isn’t hard to decipher whether the RedHawks won or lost. When it comes to basketball, Duffy wears her heart on her sleeve.
And, she has all the intangibles – intensity, ambition, passion. As a long-time student of the game, Duffy thrives at practice. Each day, the RedHawks break for drills, counting up, “One. Two. Three. Execute.”
For Duffy, anything less than 100 percent is unacceptable. She gives herself entirely to the game and works meticulously to prepare her team for its next opponent.
You can tell Duffy’s mind is always active. She may be telling you about her weekend but, at the same time, she could very well be thinking of how to best exploit a 2-3 zone.
Though, the 33-year-old coach realizes the importance of relationships. She knows in order to build a winning program everyone from the point guard to the 13th player on the roster to the trainer must buy in. Duffy’s desire to see her athletes succeed on all levels spills onto the court as she coaches.
“She rebuilt the camaraderie, the foundation that I think we lacked a little bit,” senior forward Molly McDonagh said.
In her four years with the program, McDonagh became the RedHawks’ vocal leader on the court. She complimented Duffy’s ability to turn around the environment of the Miami women’s basketball locker room.
Despite her success as a program-changing coach, those close to her during childhood may not have picked her to be a basketball star.
“My parents probably thought I was going to be a golfer growing up,” Duffy said, smiling. “That’s something that we still play a lot of now – it’s a good break from the craziness of basketball.”
Duffy’s parents can often be seen sitting courtside at Millett Hall, cheering on their daughter’s team. Her parents have always been active in supporting their daughter’s career, from AAU and high school, all the way to the WNBA.
Two framed jerseys hang in Duffy’s office as a reminder of her days as a WNBA player. Between 2006 and 2008, Duffy played for the Minnesota Lynx and New York Liberty. Though her professional playing career would end just three years after she was drafted 31st in the third round of the 2006 WNBA Draft, the jerseys show Duffy competed in a league among some of the best women in the world — a peak so few athletes reach.
Of the players who make it to the professional level, even fewer have the ability to effectively coach the generations which follow them.
As a WNBA player, Duffy fell in love with a process that happens almost entirely behind the scenes. Seeing her coaches spend late nights in their offices studying film and preparing for each game, Duffy was further motivated to master the game of basketball.
She shared a special bond with Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw – playing under one of the most prolific women’s basketball coaches of all time, who has compiled a record of 800-229 during her 31 years as head coach.
“I always loved the challenge of trying to figure out the opponent and putting a game plan together,” Duffy said. “I got to have a lot of conversations with [McGraw] just about, ‘How are we going to beat Connecticut? How are we going to beat Diana Taurasi?’”
As the point guard of a team that reached the NCAA Tournament all four years between 2002 and 2006, as well as two Sweet 16 appearances, the team relied on Duffy to be a leader. Even before she was drafted into the WNBA, Duffy knew she wanted to have a career as a coach one day.
“It was a natural progression to me,” Duffy said. “Knowing that this college thing might be the best option for me to get into coaching right away.”
Having McGraw as a role model served Duffy well, as she carried the importance of mentorship with her into her coaching career.
One of the most impactful relationships Duffy has made has been with the ’Hawks star point guard Lauren Dickerson. Duffy was a talented point guard and received the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award in 2006, which is given to the most outstanding senior shorter than 5’8”. Dickerson, who stands at 5’3”, has learned valuable lessons from Duffy this past year.
“She tells me some little tricks and different things I need to think about when I shoot,” Dickerson said. “Basically putting confidence in me, and telling me that I don’t need to be scared.”
The relationships, like the one with Dickerson, has been built not on basketball alone, but from memories made playing “Guess the Lyrics” on seven-hour bus rides to Buffalo. And, it’s paying off. The team finished the year 21-11 and she reached this mark with virtually the same roster that finished 11-21 last year.
Despite her seemingly instant success, which she owes to hours of work on and off the court, Duffy understands her job won’t be any less strenuous.
“I went to a lot of seminars and clinics preparing you for that head coaching spot,” Duffy said. “The big thing they don’t tell you about is emotion that goes with all of this, the pressure you feel with winning and losing, taking care of your staff, anything that goes right or wrong is on your shoulders, in a lot of ways. It’s very difficult to ‘turn off’ the job.”
Megan Duffy is all basketball, all the time.