Louisiana Homecoming with Coach Kim Mulkey
November 18, 2021
In this episode, President William F. Tate IV speaks to LSU Women’s Basketball Coach Kim Mulkey. Mulkey, a Louisiana native, has won six national championships, is a nine-time Hall of Famer, and an Olympian. She shares her own experiences playing youth sports, the mentors who guided her, and her focus on her team's success on the basketball court and in the classroom.
LSU Women’s Basketball Coach Kim Mulkey is the only person in college basketball history – men’s or women’s – to win national championships as a head coach, assistant coach and a player. A native of Tickfaw, Louisiana, Mulkey is a six-time national champion, a nine-time Hall of Famer, an Olympian, and was recently inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
[00:00:00] President William F. Tate IV: Welcome to "On Par with the President." On this episode, I'm excited to be joined by LSU women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey. Coach Mulkey is the only person in college basketball history-- men's or women's-- to win national championships as a head coach, assistant coach and a player. She is a six-time national champion and a nine-time Hall of Famer. An Olympian, and this past May was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
[00:00:41] "On Par with the President" is a podcast that is focused on LSU community members who are doing great things. A golfer who can play par golf is at the very top of the game. And so, the whole point of this podcast is to talk to extraordinary people who are affiliated with LSU who are on par. Thank you, Coach Mulkey, for being on the podcast. I'm going to just start off right away by teeing off. We're going to tee off with a couple of questions. You grew up in Louisiana in a small town. For listeners and viewers who have never heard of it, tell us about where you grew up and what was it like?
[00:01:18] Kim Mulkey: I grew up in Tangipahoa Parish. Many people will say I grew up in Hammond. They will say, I grew up in Ticfaw. They will say I grew up in Natalbany. So, to keep it simple, all of those little towns are in Tangipahoa Parish, which is about 40 minutes from the LSU campus. I'm very proud of where I grew up. I came back home and took this job because of my association with the state of Louisiana and my upbringing. If you were to mail me a letter, it would be sent to Ticfaw, Louisiana because my home was really out in the country. I grew up with relatives all around me. I grew up with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. But we were out in the country. And then I went to church at a small church in Natalbany. My roots run deep in Tangipahoa Parish and I'm very proud to tell everybody I'm from there.
[00:02:12] President William F. Tate IV: Yeah. I'm glad you clarified that because I'm getting my geography of the state organized and that's helpful to understand. So growing up, when did you first start playing team sports? And what sports did you play?
[00:02:24] Kim Mulkey: Well, the very first team sport I ever played was Dixie Youth Baseball as a 12 year old with the boys. I remember being at recess and being a little bit nosy. I noticed somebody dropped a stack of papers on the ground out there where we were playing. And so I just casually, when the bell rang to go back inside, I kind of looked and read it and picked one up and it was tryouts for Dixie Youth Baseball. And at that time they didn't have Biddy Basketball for girls or any leagues in the summer. And I thought, you know, I'm playing every day. I'm the first one the guys picked to play football at recess and to chase and to play marbles and to do tops, you know, so I want to do this. And so, my parents supported it and I tried out and I was the first one selected. And back then, that's an honor to be the first one selected in the draft, but it meant you went to the worst team. So I was I was a pitcher catcher and a shortstop. Made the all-star team. And, Dr. Tate got my first taste of discrimination when I was 12 years old. We went to the all-star game and I got kicked out of the dugout because I was a girl. And they kind of made it out to be that I wasn't officially on the roster, but the truth was I was the starting infielder for them and I couldn't even sit in the dugout. So, many wonderful memories. That was a sad part of it. I then next year went to PONY League. So as a 13 and 14 year old, I played on the boys team in PONY League. In the second year of PONY League, I was an all-star again at second base. So those were my first teams that I played on, and wonderful memories.
[00:04:11] President William F. Tate IV: So when did hoops become your focus?
[00:04:13] Kim Mulkey: When I got to high school. When I got to high school, I played it all. I played many sports in high school, but in the summer I played AAU basketball. And then of course, during high school, I was fortunate enough to be on four state championship teams and played for two different high school coaches and played with some wonderful players in high school. But I kept also playing other sports, volleyball, softball. I realized at that time that basketball was going to take me to a full scholarship somewhere. And so it was after high school that, you know, it strictly became basketball.
[00:04:52] President William F. Tate IV: Well, you know, one of my big areas of interest is Scholarship First, and you demonstrated in high school that [00:05:00] you could balance being an athlete and academically successful as the class valedictorian with outstanding grades. How did you balance it?
[00:05:08] Kim Mulkey: Dr. Tate, I wasn't fortunate enough to be what I consider just a tremendous IQ or brainiac or all of those things. I literally had to study. Probably started studying at 10, 11 o'clock at night and depending upon how much studying I needed to do it could go after midnight. But that became my pattern all through high school, all through college. And it worked for me. I had to work harder than those who were just super intelligent. And I guess you would say it's probably somewhat competitive for me. I wanted to compete with those guys that were just so outstanding in the classroom. And I was fortunate to graduate valedictorian, and went to Louisiana Tech and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a business administration degree there. I just wanted everybody to think that I was as smart as they were. The truth is I wasn't, I just outworked them.
[00:06:02] President William F. Tate IV: Now I'm going to ask you this because I don't know if there's any video of you playing in high school, but as a coach, you know, I've watched you over the years and you bring a little bit of swag to the sidelines. You're not just sitting there looking like an academic coach, you know, buttoned-up. I mean, you come with a little swag. Did you play like that in high school? Did you sort of have that, you know, dropped back and then, give them the look?
[00:06:29] Kim Mulkey: Well, I think people that saw me play probably would answer that "yes." I can remember being called The Little General out there. Playing the position of point guard, you have to be an extension of the coach on the floor. So I didn't have a problem pointing to people and telling them what to do. I still don't have that problem. It comes natural because you have to know what you're doing. I'm responsible for everybody on that floor when I was a player, I have to know all the responsibilities of my teammates. And then now as a coach, there's just so much on your plate that you're responsible for and I want to make sure that I'm prepared. I like to tell people I'm a fighter. I don't know if that's being from Louisiana and we're very resilient people and we fight and we clean up and we fight some more. But I just love to compete, and I love to be around people who make you better. So when I'm on that sideline, I'm oblivious to anything around me, except what's going on on that floor. And I want my kids to play hard. I want them to play with excitement and enthusiasm. Passiveness doesn't motivate me. You know, passiveness is great. Some of your greatest people and greatest coaches are passive. But me, I wanted that coach that was fiery and would get the best out of me. And so, yeah, I think it's your personality and who you are.
[00:07:51] President William F. Tate IV: For me, it was interesting to watch you during your homecoming ceremony, if you will, in the spring, when you returned here to Louisiana and LSU. You were visibly emotional about coming back to Louisiana. Tell us what you were thinking in those moments when you accepted that role?
[00:08:08] Kim Mulkey: I think there were a lot of emotions involved in that, Dr. Tate. One, I left a great institution. I left a dynasty. I had the emotion of leaving young people that I recruited to come and who believed in me. And yet, that emotion was still very real. But yet, when I stood at that podium and spoke, I'm looking out in that audience at the governor, family, friends, people I haven't seen in 40 years. And they were there to support me coming back and to help build this program back to where people want it to be and where people remembered it. I think it was just twofold. The emotions of leaving a place that I raised my children, but yet this was home and it just felt so good.
[00:08:59] President William F. Tate IV: Personally, I watched what you accomplished at your time at Baylor as extremely impressive. What are you most proud of about that time?
[00:09:06] Kim Mulkey: Many things, certainly coaches are hired to win. So, you can't go without saying that your championships, they're hard to do. To win one championship is so hard. People coach a lifetime and some of the greatest coaches never win championships. To think that we were able to win three championships at Baylor. 23 Big 12 Championships, regular season, and tournament championships. I was just blessed. I was blessed that players believed in us and came to Baylor. I'm very proud of the 100% graduation rate. Very proud of that. I can't promise championships. I couldn't promise championships at Baylor, but what I could always promise the families, the parents, the young lady is I'm going to send you home with a degree. If you're not in an institution that values the college degree, you're going to be in deep trouble. If we don't have the academic support from our academic advisors, from professors, from people who will hold these young student athletes accountable, then we have failed those student athletes. So many coaches, they don't care if they go to class. They don't care if they're in tutor session. Don't come play for me. Because it matters to me.
[00:10:28] President William F. Tate IV: Now, let me ask you this. I know for a fact that people who get to where you are have something in your life called sponsored mobility. In other words, they've had great mentors and coaches because you just don't become Kim Mulkey without that. So talk to us about some of your coaches and mentors who helped you in your journey.
[00:10:51] Kim Mulkey: Well, first of all, I was blessed to be brought up in an environment growing up that was just healthy and good and supportive. From grandparents to parents, and people who just allowed you to feel that love. And then when I got into college basketball, you absorb everything like a sponge because you think you're really good, "Man, I won four state championships." And then you go to this great team at Louisiana Tech, and then you're really humbled and you realize real quick, you're not quite as good as you think you are. Even though you have those state championships, man, you've got a lot to learn. I learned so much from Leon Barmore at Louisiana Tech. The details, the X's and O's. I can't tell you, so much of what I do today is because of what I learned at Louisiana Tech. Then I was blessed to play summer basketball with USA basketball from the Pan-American games to the Olympics and Pat Summitt. And what she taught, X's and O's- wise. I would say those two had the most influence on me because those two really were the ones that taught me the game in great detail. To this day, I miss Pat tremendously. I didn't have the opportunity to play for her at Tennessee, but just playing for her with USA basketball. Here was a woman that was married, trying to juggle being a mother and do all the things at the highest level. And I miss her. She was a great role model. And then, coach Barmore and I, if we don't talk weekly, it's not two or three weeks that go by that we don't check in with each other.
[00:12:34] President William F. Tate IV: Coach, that's special. Those are two of the best to ever do it, and you really have been blessed. Just knowing and seeing how you operate, I can see those two coaches manifested in who you are. It's very powerful. You described a lot about your competitiveness. In the end, have you ever thought about what is driving you? Why are you this way?
[00:12:56] Kim Mulkey: We are products of how we're raised, but not always, but we are products of how we're raised. I was raised in middle income. My parents graduated high school and they went to work. My dad joined the Marine Corps and was there for four years. My mom married at a young age, had me at a young age. I watched them work every day, so they never made us feel like we were inferior to anybody, nor did they ever make us feel like we were superior to anybody. I'm a product of the public schools. Integration hit when I was in the second grade. The most wonderful decision my parents ever made was to keep me in public schools. And I honestly believe the competitiveness probably came from the learning how to deal with lots of things at a young age. And then also, probably just the mere fact that it's internal. It may just be who you are. You wanted to compete in everything that you did in life. You never wanted to fail. A lot of coaches and athletes have this fear of failure. I think it's okay to be afraid to fail, but not allow it to devastate you when you do. You pick yourself right back up and you go to work. We all fail in life. I've never met a person that didn't fail, but it's how you react to circumstances that allow you to grow and become who you want to be in life.
[00:14:25] President William F. Tate IV: So you have this competitive drive in you. When you're thinking about a potential player to join your program, is there something that you see in them that says that they're that double eagle person? Is there something that you look for that's special? I can see a person with skills. I mean, we all can identify those. But is there something else?
[00:14:48] Kim Mulkey: You're right. The first thing we look for are skills. Can they shoot, can they dribble or are they rebounders, the position you need to be recruiting. We sit there and we identify those players. Then you've got to dig, Dr. Tate, you got to go and get the transcript. What kind of student are they? It's okay if they're not a straight-A student, that doesn't frighten me. I just believe that I can make them into the competitive player I want them to be based upon my coaching them every day. I am one-- I'm not afraid to take the player that some people don't want as long as they're good kids. I don't want to bring somebody in here and try to change who they are when the history tells you, you're making a mistake. I'm talking about those that they may say, "Oh, they're an attitude on the court." I can fix that attitude. In fact, attitude can be good. As long as it's an attitude of "I'm disappointed in myself, man." "We lost, I don't like that." Our chief want in life, Dr. Tate, is for somebody to make us become what we're capable of becoming. And I had coaches that just took me to another level. And I believe as a coach, I wanna to take those players to levels that they don't even think they can achieve. I want to prepare them for the real world. There are going to be disappointments in the real world. I'm going to love on them because nobody else is going to love on them when they leave our little bubble of collegiate athletics, other than their families.
[00:16:21] President William F. Tate IV: Since you've been announced, the family has responded by buying a lot of tickets. How does that make you feel when people in the family, the Tiger Family, respond to you by saying "We're going to come out and support you"?
[00:16:36] Kim Mulkey: Well, it's for the players first. Yes, a lot will buy tickets because I'm from here. But this program was built many years ago and many of those fans remember, and they're hungry. And they need to acknowledge Scott Woodward and the administration for coming and understanding we want to go back there. You know, Scott's only been here two years and I'm sure he'll tell you. He wants all of his sports to be very good. And the commitment that they have made, I think is a sign of why people are buying tickets. I think certainly my coming back, but more importantly and most important, I want them to come and support those players. Those players are the ones that put it on the floor. They dive for loose balls. We're gonna work extremely hard on that floor. It might not show in wins and losses, but I'll guarantee you, they will be proud of the effort that's put forth. We just love you. We need you. We know what it takes to win.
[00:17:39] President William F. Tate IV: I'll be among those there, I promise you. Well, let's turn to the holiday season. Thanksgiving is coming very soon. What's your favorite Thanksgiving memory?
[00:17:49] Kim Mulkey: Eating! I'm from Louisiana. Isn't that what we do? I mean, like right now I probably gained 10 pounds since the press conference 'cause I'm back eating everything I see. Just sitting around the table. There are very few times, we get so busy in our lives, even growing up, parents working. It's just sitting down, blessing the food, and eating turkey and dressing.
[00:18:14] President William F. Tate IV: And that raises the next question. What's your favorite food for Thanksgiving?
[00:18:18] Kim Mulkey: Oh, I can answer that. I love all food. Turkey. The dark meat is the best. It's the juiciest, but I'll eat white meat. Dressing. And make sure you have gizzards in the dressing. Make sure the dressing is not stuffing. We're from the south, we like cornbread dressing. And then just give me the small little petite peas. I don't need anything else. I don't need candied yams. I don't need the dessert. Those two things I could live off of leftovers for weeks at a time.
[00:18:50] President William F. Tate IV: We're in the same place with everything you said until you said no candied yams, and then you lost me.
[00:18:58] Kim Mulkey: I love them, but I don't have to have them. Yeah. I love them. Sweet potato pie, I love them.
[00:19:04] President William F. Tate IV: I want to thank you for being on "On Par with the President." We know that there are great things are going to happen for you, for LSU, and our student athletes.
[00:19:12] Kim Mulkey: Dr. Tate, we are excited that you're our president. Thank you for what you're going to do at LSU. Thank you for being here and thank you for loving women's athletics. Geaux Tigers!
[00:20:23] President William F. Tate IV: Geaux Tigers!