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.
“Coach Bibbs was a bright star in our conference,” says former Alcorn State women’s coach Shirley Walker, a 2010 SWAC Hall of Fame inductee. “She was tough to beat. She was great for the conference. I talked to a number of coaches in different conferences who were afraid to play her. When she came at you, she was coming to fight.”
Grambling interim Director of Athletics Aaron James was Bibbs’ assistant coach for four seasons. He says her success is well-deserved and not a matter of happenstance.
“Pat was a good boss,” James says. “Pat let you do your job, and she was very knowledgeable. She’s demanding. She wants the job done. She wants to be the best at whatever she does, and she works very hard at it.”
“She didn’t take losing very well,” he said. “She didn’t like to lose, and she remembers the losses. If you beat her the firs time around, it’s going to be different the second time. You might beat her, but it won’t be the same way.”
Bibbs’ drive and success didn’t go unnoticed.
Dr. Dennis Thomas was among those who took note of Bibbs’ accomplishments at Grambling. Thomas, currently Commissioner of the MEAC, was director of athletics at Hampton in 1997 when the school was in the market for a women’s basketball coach. He tabbed Bibbs for the job.
“I was charged with bringing in the best coach I could find,” says Thomas, who says he interviewed a number of candidates before settling on Bibbs. “Bottom line was Pat was the best of the best out there. She’s a quality person, number one. Number two, she had demonstrated that she was an outstanding coach in high school and at Grambling state. She cared about student athletes’ academic progress and them graduating. I had followed her career. If she didn’t win the (SWAC) championship, she was right there fighting for it. When you’re hiring coaches, you have to hire good people, period. If good people are great coaches, you’ve got a chance not to be embarrassed because they have a moral and ethical compass that heavily weighs on integrity.”
Bibbs led the Lady Pirates to three MEAC Tournament championships and two regular season titles in seven seasons at Hampton.
North Carolina A&T lured Bibbs away from Hampton in 2005. Her mission: Rebuild a program that had won just 51 games in the previous eight seasons. Bibbs has been more than equal to the task. The Lady Aggies won three consecutive regular season MEAC championships from 2007-09, and they won the 2009 tournament championship.
That run of success cemented Bibbs’ legacy of transforming fledgling and struggling programs into winners.
“It’s somewhat of a ministry,” Bibbs says of her penchant for rejuvenating downtrodden programs.
Remarkably, Bibbs has carved out her niche while playing a non-conference schedule loaded with major college opponents wherever she has coached. Her Grambling teams defeated Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, New Mexico State, Texas Tech, Oregon, Syracuse and Mississippi State.
In her first season at Hampton, the Lady Pirates played three nationally ranked opponents – Duke, North Carolina and Vanderbilt. During tenure at Hampton, Bibbs registered victories against Maryland, Kansas and Southern Mississippi.
North Carolina A&T knocked off Wake Forest in the first round of the 2010 Women’s NIT for its first victory against at ACC opponent. The Lady Aggies’ schedule this season includes Clemson, who the Lady Aggies defeated 76-66, Georgia Teach and Michigan State.
“I haven’t taken the easy road,” she says. “If I wanted to do that, I would have played an easy schedule to pad my record. That was never in my plan.”
Thomas says Bibbs’ success has trickled down through the MEAC and has helped to elevate the level of competition in the conference.
“She has made us better,” Thomas says. “She has gone out and recruited talented athletes. Other coaches have followed her lead and recruited quality athletes so they can win.”