A day after announcing their new head women’s basketball coach, the Aggies introduced her via a live interactive stream from the court in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Tuesday morning.
Kayla Ard will be Utah State’s ninth head women’s basketball coach in the 32-year history of the program. She talked about how excited she was for her first head coaching job, as well thanking many that have helped her along the way.
USU Vice President and Director of Athletics John Hartwell opened the live stream. Ard gave an opening statement and then Doug Hoffman, associate athletics director for media relations, asked questions that were sent in through various electronic ways. The new head coach fielded questions from fans, the media, a former athlete, her brother and even received a message from her mother.
“My mother has really taught me to be a strong, independent woman,” Ard said. “She was a single mom and raised me and my brother. I’m so grateful for her. My brother taught me how to never back down, never give up, don’t back down from anything. That’s really paid dividends for me in my career.”
Hartwell said the Aggies were looking for a high energy coach who was a relentless recruiter with a tireless work ethic. He found it all in Ard.
“Kayla Ard not only checked all of the boxes of the qualities that we were looking for, but she emerged as somebody who not only fulfilled all of those things that we were looking for,” Hartwell said. “She will be a tremendous fit for Utah State women’s basketball, for our great university and for Cache Valley. I am extremely thrilled.”
Ard was equally thrilled.
“I am so excited to be here,” she said in her opening comments. “This is a dream come true. I have thought of this day since I was a little girl. This is an extraordinary job for a first-time head coach.
“... This is truly a dream come true, an emotional time. I’m so grateful.”
The new coach commented on the support the USU men’s basketball team gets and promised to give fans “something to cheer about” for the women.
“I cannot be more happy to be here,” Ard said. “It’s truly just a whirlwind. I’m so happy just to be here. ... I can’t wait to get started.”
That will have to wait a little while as the university and the rest of the world deals with the coronavirus. She addressed that and other questions Tuesday.
“It’s very unorthodox; it’s very different,” Ard said. “... I know the athletic department is excited to get back to work and everybody’s waiting for this to go away, to die down and get better so that everybody could get back to work. You have to be patient and let it work itself out because the main thing right now is safety. You have to keep everybody safe and that’s what is most important. We can do it. We can get through it. If anything, this will serve as a way for me to recruit the players that are here.”
Ard was asked about her goals. She said competing for a Mountain West Conference title is certainly there, but in her first year finishing in the top half of the league. She would like to double the wins to 16 from the eight this past season. Having met men’s head basketball coach Craig Smith, Ard would like to copy the success of the men’s program.
“Ultimately, my goals here are to win championships,” Ard said. “I want to cut down the nets. It can be done here. ... They (Aggie men) have paved the way. Now, it’s women’s basketball’s time to jump on board and do the same thing.”
When asked about her high energy, Ard was quick to respond.
“Someone told me that I’m like the female version of Craig Smith,” Ard said. “This guy (motioning to Hartwell). For me, that’s a huge compliment.”
As far as what to expect on the court, Ard likes offense. At Denver, where she was the associate head coach and interim head coach part of this past season, the Pioneers were 11th in the country in scoring one season and 19th another.
“Offense is my favorite thing to talk about,” Ard said. “... We want to be fast, but structured. It’s not street ball, but it’s run and gun. We’re going to get out and push the ball. It’s exciting. The fans love it, the players love it. I want to score in under 12 seconds, which gives us more possessions.”
And what about defense?
“I know how important defense is,” Ard said. “... We’re going to coach that side of the ball, I promise you.”
Known for being a recruiter, Ard admitted being a head coach will mean delegating that. However, she will be involved and wants to make sure new athletes will fit in with the university, the community and team. High IQ players will be the top priority, she said.
Ard said the team and USU athletic department will be like family to her.
“It’s just me and my dog, Sebastian, so I need friends, I need family,” Ard said. “... I am very close to my players. I don’t cross the line. It’s appropriate. I develop great relationships with them. If they need a push, I’m going to push them. If they need a hug, I’m going to hug them. ... You need to be vulnerable enough and confident enough in your relationship with your players to have the kind of relationship where you can ask their opinion and you are big enough to listen.”
A native of Hammond, Louisiana, Ard was highly recruited out of Loranger High School after averaging more than 26.0 points a game, earning all-district honors three consecutive years and leading her team to three final four appearances, including a state championship in 2000.
She began her collegiate career at Chipola (Florida) Junior College. After playing one season there, she transferred to Southeastern Louisiana where she played from 2004-06, including an all-Southland Conference selection in 2005.
Her path to USU included five stops on the coaching trail. Her coaching experience includes: Pensacola State (2010-12), Troy (2012-13), Clemson (2013-15), Dayton (2015-17) and Denver (2017-20). Ard was an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at the first four schools and then the associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at Denver. For 11 games at Denver this past year, she was the interim head coach.
Some different women’s head basketball coaches commented on Ard heading to USU.
“Kayla has been a head coach in waiting for many years,” Buffalo’s Felisha Legette-Jack said. “I have known Kayla for over 12 years and she has been a fierce recruiter, a relentless worker and a winner. She is a coach I tried to bring to my staff multiple times because I believe in her ability. Utah State will learn very quickly that they hit a home run with this hire. I’m very proud and excited for the future of Kayla Ard.”
“Kayla has a tenacious winner’s mentality,” Troy’s Chanda Rigby said. “She will create paths to winning on which she will lead the women’s basketball players at Utah State. She’s an outside-of-the-box thinker and a relentless recruiter. I believe John Hartwell paved the way for some great women’s basketball at Utah State with this hire.”
“Utah State has hired a winner,” Georgia’s Andy Landers said. “Kayla checks all the boxes. She can coach, recruit and manage the needs of today’s student-athletes. I have followed coach Ard’s career with great interest and respect. I admire the way she works, her competitiveness and her rapport with those in the basketball community. Utah State just got better.”
“Kayla is a tenacious recruiter and one of the most brilliant basketball minds in the game,” Syracuse’s Quentin Hillsman said. “She will be a star.”