Patricia Cage Bibbs Monday night became the 27th active NCAA Division I women’s basketball coach to reach the 500-win plateau when North Carolina A&T defeated Savannah State 88-74 in Savannah, Georgia.
“I feel relieved,” Bibbs said minutes after the milestone victory. “Everybody had been looking forward to it. I’m truly blessed to have the young ladies who have played for me and helped me reach this milestone. To do it at an HBCU means a lot. It’s like being in a class of your own to do it at an HBCU. I had opportunities to go to majority schools. I wouldn’t have changed anything. My heart is happy.”
Bibbs says that while reaching the 500-win mark gives her an indescribable sense of accomplishment, it isn’t something with which she was obsessed.
“The thing I’m focused on is not 500 wins,” she says, adding that she wasn’t aware that she was on the verge of reaching that milestone until North Carolina A&T Sports Information Director Brian Holloway brought it to her attention during the offseason. “It’s other people talking about it. I never thought about. I’m focused on winning championships.”
Bibbs’ teams at North Carolina A&T, Hampton and Grambling State have won 13 conference tournament championships and 10 regular season conference crowns during her 27-year career.
She says she is humbled when she considers her journey through the coaching ranks and where it has led her.
“To me, it’s truly a blessing,” she says. “God has given me the opportunity to stay in the field of coaching and help young ladies and coaches. It’s a blessing. What else can you call it? There are so many who probably will never do it. To stay in it and to have your health and strength (is a blessing).”
Bibbs’ 486-278 record at the start of the season put her in the top 50 among Division I women’s coaches, with a winning percentage of .636.
Her ascent up the ladder of success has been an unlikely one. Her career began at Ruston (La.) High, where she resurrected the girl’s program that had been dormant for 25 years.
Leon Barmore, who went on to a Hall of Fame career as coach of the Louisiana Tech women’s program, was coach of the Ruston High boy’s team. The advent of Title IX, which mandated increased opportunities for females, led to a girl’s team being re-established. Bibbs, a first-year physical education instructor at the time, was tabbed for the job.
Despite being a superb athlete in her own right, Bibbs was a fish out of water when it came to basketball. The third oldest of 10 siblings – seven boys and three girls – Bibbs grew up playing sandlot sports with her brothers and male cousins in Choudrant, La., since their were no interscholastic sports teams for girls during that era.
She played first base and batted cleanup for her summer league softball team, and she threw the shot put in intramural track and field at Grambling, which, like most colleges in the early 1970s, didn’t field women’s varsity sports teams.
“All I did was sit there and watch the football players and all those first-round draft picks,” says Bibbs, whose husband, Ezil, played football for the G-Men.
Bibbs would also watch legendary Grambling men’s basketball coach Fred Hobdy when she attended the G-Men’s games. She would say to herself that she would love to coach, knowing that during those times, the chances of her wish coming true were slim and none.
“That’s why I wanted to be such an advocate for women,” Bibbs says. “I wanted to give young women the opportunity I didn’t have. I was so glad when Title IX came around and allowed women to play. I was very much feminine, but I wanted to be better than the guys. That’s always been my thing. They had scholarships. I saw how good they were treated. I said ‘why? Why not for the girls?’ That’s why I got into coaching.”
Even though Bibbs lacked a basketball background, she was a quick study. After three years at Ruston High, she moved on to Dubach (La.) High. There, she led the Lady Hornets to six state playoff appearances in six seasons and the 1983 Louisiana State Championship.
Bibbs returned to Grambling as an assistant coach in 1983. After she was elevated to head coach in 1984, she transformed her alma mater’s fledgling program into a powerhouse in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and developed a reputation as a fierce competitor. The Lady Tigers won six SWAC championships during Bibbs’ 13-year tenure. Her 1996-97 squad was the first in SWAC history to go undefeated in conference play as it compiled a 15-0 record.