UMass Lowell Athletics will search for a new head coach for women’s basketball. (Courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics)
On March 5, it was announced that Jenerrie Harris’s contract will not be renewed, ending her four-year tenure as head coach of the UMass Lowell women’s basketball team. During those four years Harris owned a 25-91 record.
“She helped us through the transition to Division I, and for that we will always be grateful. Being a first-time head coach at an institution that’s transitioning to Division I is a particular challenge, and I suspect that what Jenerrie learned at UMass Lowell will inform her as she continues in the profession,” said UMass Lowell Director of Athletics Dana Skinner. “That said, there was a sense that we hadn’t demonstrated over the past few years that the components needed to move the program forward had been put in place. We felt it was time to re-energize women’s basketball.”
The 2017-18 season was the program’s first year of postseason eligibility. The big highlight from the start of the season was UMass Lowell’s win against the Fisher College Falcons, 102-47. It was the first time the team eclipsed the century mark in Division I, and the third highest margin of victory in program history. The River Hawks fell short in the opening round of the America East playoffs, losing to UMBC 73-65.
“I thought Coach Harris worked extremely hard and gave us her very best effort during her four years. I personally enjoyed working with her. Moving from the assistant coach role to head coach is not an easy jump, and often times it takes a couple of tries to fully understand the many components of leading a Division I program. Jenerrie will be a better coach because of her experience here,” said Skinner on Harris’s performance as head coach.
Harris became the seventh head coach in the history of UMass Lowell women’s basketball coming from her assistant coaching job with the Navy Midshipmen. Skinner expressed his gratitude to Harris for accepting a job where not many candidates were willing to take on the challenge of transitioning a program to Division I. He also shared his praise for Harris as being an exceptional representative for UMass Lowell and her leadership not only on the court but off the court as well.
“We’ll likely concentrate more in the search on candidates who have previous experience as a head coach, preferably at the Division I level,” said Skinner on the coaching search. “Now that the university has completed the four year D-I transition, we’ve seen a broader pool of applicants that have longer experience. We’ll also seek individuals who can present strategies to elevate the program in both the short and long term.”
Speaking on the goals for the women’s basketball program, Skinner said, “The same for all of our programs – to recruit quality students and athletes who are committed to achieving at a high level academically and athletically, while also being contributing citizens. From a team perspective, we’d like all of our teams to position themselves to compete for championships.”
Skinner credits this broader pool of applicants to Harris and the work she has done at UMass Lowell. One of the more successful players under Harris’s tenure has been forward Kayla Gibbs. Gibbs has cemented herself in UMass Lowell women’s basketball history over her four years with the program. She is currently the all-time leader in field-goal percentage (.583), seventh in points (1,222) and sixth in rebounds (797).
On the topic of the difficulties of recruiting a coach to a university that is not renowned for women’s basketball, Skinner said, “It’s been done thousands of times by colleges. There are thousands of colleges that have been in the same situation. Is it easy? No. My dad used to say to me, ‘If the job were any easier, a lesser person could do it.’ You can’t be a lesser person. You have to go out and accept the challenge, and that’s what the interview process is for. That’s why you bring people to campus. They present you with their vision and how they’re going to do it.”
The foundation for the program’s place in Division I has been set thanks to Harris. Skinner believes wholeheartedly that she will succeed wherever she goes next. For UMass Lowell, Skinner hopes to go further from the foundation Harris established and continue the university’s commitment to recruit individuals whose priorities start with school first, then sports and using the power of sports to increase social change in the community.