MACON, Ga. – Mercer University has named veteran NCAA Division I coach Susie Gardner as the school’s new women’s basketball head coach. Gardner was introduced as the Bears’ mentor at a press conference in the University Center on Thursday afternoon.
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. Between her time as a college 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.
“We are thrilled that Susie has accepted our offer to become the women’s basketball head coach at Mercer,” MU director of athletics Bobby Pope said. “She had tremendous success at Austin Peay, where she took three teams to the NCAA tournament, and also at the University of Arkansas in the very difficult Southeastern Conference. Susie has a proven track record as an outstanding recruiter and she knows the Southeast and the state of Georgia as well as anyone.”
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.
At Florida, the 2009 Gators advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament with Gardner on staff. Likewise, UF sandwiched that with WNIT appearances in 2008 and 2010 (advancing to the round of 16 during Gardner’s first year and to the second round last season).
With Gardner at the Razorbacks’ helm in 2004-05, Arkansas earned a trip to the WNIT tournament. Prior to that, she had the SEC “Player of the Year” in 2003-04. Arkansas was a combined 64-54 during Gardner’s tenure and her 2005-06 team raced out to the best SEC start in the Lady ‘Hogs program history.
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. The Lady Govs accomplishments during that period included three Ohio Valley Conference tournament championships (2001, 2002 & 2003), and OVC regular season title (2003) and three NCAA post-season berths (2001, 2002 & 2003). 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).
From 1992-95, Gardner was the assistant coach at Western Athletic Conference power San Diego State University. In her three seasons with the Aztecs, she was a part of a program that won three-consecutive WAC tournament championships and, subsequently, also made three NCAA tourney appearances. SDSU was 69-20 with Gardner on staff and garnered two WAC regular season crowns in 1994 and 1995.
Gardner’s first “official” job as a coach came at Anderson College (now University), where she was the head coach of what was then a junior college program at the South Carolina campus from 1988-92. Her first season was a stellar one, as 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 in the future,” said Jim Cole, who takes over duties as Mercer’s Director of Athletics on July 1. “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.
Gardner earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Georgia in 1986, followed by a Master of Education degree in 1988.
A native of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., Gardner graduated from Mt. Juliet High School where she was coached by Tommy Martin.