Mercer has named veteran NCAA Division I coach Susie Gardner as the University’s new women’s basketball head coach. Gardner was introduced as the Bears’ mentor at a news conference in the University Center on June 24.
Gardner brings a wealth of experience with her as she enters her 25th season on the sidelines. Eighteen of those seasons have been at the Division I level, including 12 as a head coach. As a coach and player, Gardner has been involved in a combined 13 NCAA tournaments (four as a player and nine as a coach) and three WNIT bids.
Gardner is the 10th head coach in Mercer University’s 41-year history of women’s basketball.
Most recently, Gardner spent the past three campaigns (2007-10) as an assistant coach at the University of Florida. She joined the Gators after four seasons (2003-07) as the head coach at the University of Arkansas to give her the past seven seasons as a coach in the Southeastern Conference, regarded by many as the toughest college women’s basketball league in the nation.
Gardner cut her teeth as a Division I head coach at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., where she had a highly-successful seven-season run (1996-2003) and was 112-93. Gardner was tabbed as the OVC “Coach of the Year” in 2003. She also produced the OVC “Player of the Year” in both 2003 and 2004, with her players also garnering the league’s “Freshman of the Year” awards twice (2000 and 2001).
Gardner’s first “official” job as a coach came at Anderson College (now University), where she was head coach of what was then a junior college program at the South Carolina campus from 1988-92. Her first season the Trojans were 24-4 and were co-champions of the NJCAA’s Region 10. Her teams had runner-up Region 10 finishes in 1991 and 1992, as well.
“I am looking forward to working with Susie,” said Athletic Director Jim Cole. “Her breadth of experience and knowledge of intercollegiate athletics will be a positive addition not only to our women’s basketball program, but to the University as a whole.”
Gardner is no stranger to Middle Georgia or the Southeast region, having spent two seasons as a graduate assistant at the University of Georgia (1986-88) following a highly-successful four-year playing career for the Bulldogs under legendary head coach Andy Landers. UGA made the NCAA Final Four her freshman and junior years as a player – including a national runner-up finish in 1985 - and reached the NCAA tournament both of her years as a graduate assistant, as well. The Bulldogs won the SEC title in 1983, 1984 and 1986 as Gardner played alongside other noteworthy Georgia players like Teresa Edwards, Janet Harris and Katrina McClain.
Gardner was a member of the 1983 Sports Festival South Team which earned a gold medal. She was also a member of the USA’s Select Team which competed in Canada.
The Mount Juliet, Tenn., native earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Georgia in 1986, followed by a Master of Education degree in 1988.