'It was time for Haney to man up': How Darnell Haney's path to Georgetown prepared him for an unprecedented season

Darnell Haney was dealt an impossible hand following Tasha Butts' passing. Through his faith, confidence, and experience, he still found a way to win.

Mar 11, 2024; Uncasville, CT, USA; Georgetown Hoyas interim head coach Darnell Haney watches as his team plays UConn in the Big East tournament championship game.
Mar 11, 2024; Uncasville, CT, USA; Georgetown Hoyas interim head coach Darnell Haney watches as his team plays UConn in the Big East tournament championship game. / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Last year around this time, Darnell Haney didn't know what his next job would be.

After nine years at Jacksonville University, including five as head coach, Haney and the school mutually agreed to part ways at the conclusion of the 2022-23 season.

"I was probably going to take an assistant job with a Power Five program down in Florida or in the southeast," Haney said in an interview with FanSided. "Then Tasha called."

Haney had been advocating for Georgetown head coach Tasha Butts to hire one of his assistants who was from the Georgetown area. "I was gonna stay. I'm a Florida guy, man, Miami, through and through. I'm trying to be in the sunshine," he said. When Butts called, Haney thought she was calling back about his assistant. But Tasha wanted him.

Haney's first thought was about his family. His oldest daughter was set to graduate high school this year. Did he want to leave the sunshine? Did he want to uproot his family?

Haney agreed to come, while his family stayed. And his biggest test began.

"I came up here, and we went into workouts. We started to build this thing. And then Tasha, she got sick, she had gone to hospital, she she passed," Haney recalled. "It was tough on our group. And it was tough on our girls. It was tough on me. But it was it was time for Haney to man up."

To appreciate Darnell Haney's path to Georgetown, it's important to know the principles he lives by

Haney lives by two pieces of advice he's received over the years. The first came from his godmother: "there's a time and place for everything." The second, from the Bible. Galatians 6:9, to be exact: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

"I look at myself and look at farmer farming, right? Everywhere I go, I want to make sure I'm dropping seeds," Haney explained. "I'm making people feel comfortable around me and I'm making sure that I'm trying to help others. And at t the proper time, you will receive the harvest."

Haney doesn't consider himself religious, though. "I wouldn't say I'm very religious," Haney explained to me. "I'm very spiritual. I think everything happens in God's plan."

These three principles have shown up at every step of Haney's career in women's college basketball.

Darnell Haney didn't want to coach girls' basketball

In the late 2000s, Haney served as assistant varsity and head JV coach at Jones High School, where he coached under Jerry Howard. Howard had turned Jones' boys program into a powerhouse, playing in four state championship games over a seven-year span. Haney briefly left for a head coaching role at South Lake, but quickly returned.

"I left Jones and I went to be a head coach at a school about about an hour away from my house," Haney said. The change put strain on his family.

"Because my son had just been born, my wife was going crazy on me," he said. "I went back to Jones. I was gonna be an assistant again on the boys side, just to help [Howard] out. Plus, I kind of liked it." Upon his return, the principal at Jones asked Haney if he wanted to coach the girls' team.

Haney adamantly declined the opportunity. "No, I do not want to coach women's basketball. I don't want to coach girls basketball," he told her. "I don't want nothing to do with it."

But God's plan was different. Haney changed his mind within minutes of that conversation.

Haney smiles as he tells the story. "I walk in the gym, and I see one of the best players I've ever coached. She's an eighth grader getting ready to go into ninth grade and coming to the school. And she's in there playing pickup against the boys. I mean like doing everything: step backs, snatch backs, getting to the rim, lay up, filet mignon, over the rim. I'm like, who is this? And I think I can do this madam principal."

And do it, he did.

Haney quickly turned the girls program into a powerhouse. In three seasons, he led the team to pair of district titles and state Final Four appearances.

Then, another seed blossomed

"I'm watching the NBA Playoffs on the couch at the house, and I get a phone call from an 864 number, and it's Yolett McCuin," Haney said. "She's telling me she just got the job at the head coach of Jacksonville who was wondering about would be interested."

The seed was planted five months earlier. "We were in practice one day, and Yolett came in the gym," Haney recalled. "She was an assistant at Clemson. She came in the gym and she just introduced herself and she just wanted to recruit a couple of my kids. I didn't think anything of it because we had people in the gym all the time."

When McCuin called about the job, Haney was hesitant. He had built a system at Jones. The middle school pipeline was pumping. He was prepping the team for another run to the state playoffs. Plus, the change would mean a move and a pay cut. Unsure, Haney consulted his wife, who kept it real with him. "[She said] you say you want to be a college coach, right? This your opportunity to be a college coach."

McCuin transformed Jacksonville, and did so quickly

When McCuin started at Jacksonville, the school had experienced four straight losing seasons. In her third season there, McCuin led them to a 22-11 record, a conference championship, and their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. In the following two years, they made the WNIT.

The quick turnaround made McCuin a hot commodity.

"I think in year four, she was getting courted by some schools," Haney said. "In year five, she goes to Ole Miss, I'm getting ready to go with her."

But, once again, God's plan was different.

"They gave me they gave me an opportunity to interview for the job at Jacksonville. I got the job, and we had a tremendous run while we were there," Haney said. "[We] had some really good players, we were able to recruit some really good players and be a part of program bests in a lot of ways."

They say "sometimes when you are in a dark place you think you have been buried, but you’ve actually been planted." That's Darnell Haney at Georgetown.

After Butts passed, Haney was named interim head coach for the season. As the man tasked with coaching such an unprecedented season, he could've easily let the circumstances rule the year. But that's not the Haney way.

Haney saw it as God's plan. The culmination of the seeds he had sown. Him being right where he's supposed to be.

"I think I was what was needed here for Tasha. I was what was needed here for these young women. And I think Georgetown just needed a spark," he explained. He leaned into skills he honed during his time at Jacksonville. He explained that "understanding how people work, listening to [his] staff, listening to [the] players" were all key for him to best help them navigate this season. But it wasn't easy to build that trust, and basketball was just a small part of the process.

"Our young women have a lot of things [going on]. They got class, they got boyfriends, they got different things going on in their life. They got family things going on in their life. Then they lose their head coach who had just gotten here, that was gonna give them hope," he explained. "Then this new guy comes in, and they don't know whether to trust that yet. So we had to find a way as a staff to get to build trust in our young women. And I think they were hungry for somebody to just just come in, and kind of help navigate them in their life, not just in basketball."

Haney was also able to quickly form relationships with his players and staff. He found ways to motivate and guide them, and many of his mantras started echoing throughout the program — and the airwaves.

These "Haney-isms" are a blend of Haney's own creativity and adages from previous coaches and mentors. His famous "outside dawg" mentality became an important part of Georgetown's identity this year. He also challenged his team using one of Jerry Howard's famous expressions: "a scared man/woman can't win." His famous "Chick-Fil-A" quote was made up in the moment. And it worked perfectly.

'Georgetown plays defense'

Haney's arrival and ascension at Georgetown was not a coincidence. The fit was too perfect. Everything was prepared for him.

God's plan.

All Haney had to do was be himself. And being himself allowed him to not only hold his team together but to take them to new heights.

It just so happens that the roster Haney inherited fit his style of play perfectly, even if the players didn't realize it at first. "They didn't know who they were," he said. "And when you're going into a program, the number one thing you want to do, I feel, is... before you start building, play style, culture, all of that, you got to find out who you're going to be." Haney was able to implement his style with ease.

"Defense is all about effort, and I told our group, if we don't defend, we don't get a chance, because we didn't have we didn't have enough scoring to be able to compete with in a scoring battle with Creighton or UConn or St. John's," Haney said. "We didn't have enough scoring to do that. So we had to make sure that we had a niche."

Haney knew the run was coming on the last day of the season

Georgetown didn't play in the final game of the Big East regular season, but it was one of their biggest games of the year. Their tournament seeding depended on the outcome of the Creighton-Seton Hall matchup. The Hoyas needed Creighton to win so they could snag the sixth seed. They knew that path was their best shot to the title game.

The entire team watched in nervous anticipation of the outcome. Everyone except for Haney.

He was at the mall, buying a suit for the championship game.

"I knew if things lined up the right way, we had a chance to be playing on Monday night. So I needed to suit. I said we were gonna dress up [for the] championship game. I need to get me a suit," Haney recalled. He didn't check the game at all. "They were able to tailor it there. I went to the Tyson's Corner mall, got a suit, And I ate at Maggiano's while I was waiting on him to tailor it up for me. Had me a nice mushroom ravioli, a nice strawberry lemonade, suit was ready. I told our young women to pack for Monday."

After the season was all said and done, Haney had led Georgetown to new heights. They won 20 games for the first time since 2012. Finished above .500 for the first time since 2017. Made a magical run to their first ever Big East championship game. They also participated in the first WBIT, and made it to the second round.

Haney officially became head coach, too.

Still, Haney sticks to his principles. The sheer amount of pressure and change he faced in the last year and the suddenness with which it came was enough to break him, but Haney had plenty of support to lean on.

He still aims to make every interaction he has a positive and memorable one. He plants seeds with every step. He trusts God's plan. He keeps his family in mind with every decision he makes.

It's that combination of factors that make him who he is.

It's who he is that will make Georgetown great for years to come.

And he's just getting started.