Sarah Gayler didn’t set out to make history.
In fact, when it happened, she was unaware of the complete significance of her hiring as the new men’s basketball coach at Brescia. It was something that had never happened before at the NAIA level.
“I don’t necessarily think about it,” said Gayler, who was also hired as athletic director. “It’s not something that crosses my mind. It’s funny, when they hired me, I was in the cafeteria and the Dean (Jeffrey Barnette) walks up to me and he goes, ‘Hey, did you know that you are the first woman to get hired for men in NAIA?’ I was like, ‘No, I had no clue.’ So it’s nothing that I was seeking out or something that I even paid attention to.”
There’s a reason for that.
“Probably the biggest reason that it doesn’t really come to my mind is because I’ve been coaching the last 13 years and 12 years have been with guys,” she said.
The significance of Gayler’s hiring is obvious, but she has the credentials Brescia was seeking to fill the vacancy.
In a release on the day Gayler was hired, Brescia president Rev. Larry Hostetter said, “We are very pleased to have Coach Gayler join us as Athletic Director and Head Men’s Basketball Coach. As an institution founded by the Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph, Brescia University is a leader in recognizing the importance of women in roles of leadership, here at the university and throughout society. With that being said, Coach Gayler was selected because she is the most qualified for this important role and we are excited to welcome her to campus.”
After playing collegiately at Arkansas-Fort Smith and the University of New Orleans, Gayler immediately got into coaching at Carrollton (Ky.) Christian Academy. At the same time, her playing career wasn’t quite over, joining a team on a tour in Hungary and later two seasons with the Dallas Diesel, a semipro team.
She was later certified as a personal trainer and worked as a strength and conditioning coach for NFL, FIBA and collegiate athletes. She also worked for the NBA Developmental League’s Texas Legends as assistant athletic trainer while also assisting in all practices and games.
Gayler also ran the Dallas Diesel men’s program as a coach and recruiter and was involved in community engagement. She ran a girls AAU program and spent two years scouting the NBA Summer League.
From 2014-2017, she was the assistant head coach for the Kentucky Mavericks of the ABA/PBL, a team she helped lead to a pair of ABA national championships with a combined 103-0 record.
Gayler then spent two years helping with Milwaukee Bucks assistant GM Milt Newton’s Emerald Gems Foundation. In 2019, she began working for the Junior NBA India and China as international director and coach, then worked with the Bucks NBA franchise in basketball operations. The Bucks, of course, won the NBA championship last season.
So it’s plain to see how Gayler can so easily downplay her pioneer status.
“It’s funny, because it’s still new to people,” she said, “but it’s not new to me.”
Gayler said her gender has had no bearing on her acceptance by the team, university or community.
“That’s never been an issue,” she said. “I know people from the outside looking in, it’s different. But when your coach demands something or has you do something, and to have high expectations, you know as a coach, you know they’re helping you and they know what they’re talking about, it’s just mutual respect. ‘You’re my player, you’re going to do what I ask, you’re going to go hard.’ And they want to do it for you; they want to run through that wall. So there’s never been anything like that, ever.”
When Gayler brings the Bearcats to Summersville on Saturday to take on No. 23 WVU Tech, she will bring a team that has struggled to a 5-11 record to this point, 3-5 in River States Conference play, to go up against a team that broke into the Top 25 this week and has won 12 consecutive games.
A lot of the struggles can be attributed to players and coach getting used to each other, but not because of any barriers. Rather, as is often the case, adjusting to a new system has been a challenge.
“The season’s been going well. Again, just learning everything and adapting,” she said. “I’m a complete 180 from the last guy, through our system and how we run things. The guys have been great. I’m actually looking forward to January and starting to get into the thick of the conference.”
Gayler just relishes the opportunity to give back to the game she says “is an addiction” to her and to help mold the lives of young athletes, no matter who happens to be listening.
“To be able to not only influence them but teach them how to be a better person, how to be a better player, that’s really where the joy is,” she said. “My favorite part of coaching is watching a team come together and grow, and that’s what this team is doing, essentially.”
The men will play at 1 p.m. at the Summersville Arena and Conference Center, followed by the women at 3 p.m.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @GaryFauber