Women's Basketball Feature: The McNeills
Feb. 23, 2015
Out of the 343 teams in Division I women’s basketball, there are nine coaching staffs that include a husband and wife coaching tandem. There is only one team in the nation, however, that has a pair of married assistant coaches.
When Joanne Boyle was hired as Virginia women’s basketball’s head coach in April of 2011, Kim McNeill [then known as Kim Hairston], an assistant at Georgia, was the first addition to her coaching staff. Cory McNeill, an assistant at Georgetown, rounded out the staff a couple of weeks later. The hire was not a package deal.
“It was weird, because, honestly, both of us going to Virginia wasn’t something we planned, it just kind of fell into place,” Cory laughed.
Kim, who had been an assistant under Boyle at both Richmond and Cal, was at the 2011 Final Four in Indianapolis when she first heard rumors that Boyle might be headed to Virginia.
“We had gotten engaged in October [on Halloween], and I knew that year that we needed to get closer because we were going to get married,” Kim recalled. “At the Final Four, I was at PF Chang’s having dinner with [Assistant Athletic Director for Women’s Basketball Operations] Sarah Holsinger and talked a little bit about the idea of going to Virginia. I was thinking it would be closer, not knowing that it would end up both of us being here together. It was initially just about me trying to get closer to DC.”
After Kim and fellow assistant Katie O’Connor had signed on, Cory formally applied for the final opening on the coaching staff.
“We hoped in the back of our minds, I think, that Joanne would be up for the idea of a married couple on her staff, but we didn’t know if she was going to go for it,” Cory recalled. “Luckily, she did. She gave it a shot and she gave me an interview. I did a lot of workouts in front of her, she put me to work and I did something that caught her attention that she really liked. She made her decision based off of that.”
Kim and Cory were officially announced as members of the staff on May 11, 2011. Kim and Cory officially became `The McNeills’ in August of that year.
Their joint story began in the romantic setting of San Diego, Calif., specifically in the equally-romantic setting of a high school basketball gym.
“We were watching the same player, or we were at least watching the same team, and we just happened to be sitting near each other,” Cory recalled. “We have a common friend, Andre Bolt, who was out there at the tournament as well. During a break, he suggested we all go out and grab something to eat. The three of us went to IHOP. We sat there across from each other and for the first time I really got to interact with her and talk to her and listen. And after we went back into the gym, we went from sitting away from each other to sitting next to each other and having a little bit of conversation. And then when the event was over, we kind of walked each other out. I walked her to do the door, and being the gentleman that I am, I opened the door at the other end. We just kind of hit it off and we had a good connection. I was like, `Okay, she is really cool,’ and I was assuming she felt the same thing.”
“I honestly thought, and I’ve told him this before, when I first met him I thought he was corny,” Kim said. “If you know him, he’s a jokester. He likes playing jokes. He’s funny, but I thought that he was kind of corny.”
The two ran into one another again at the Final Four that year in Tampa, Fla., and many times again on the recruiting trail. As the relationship evolved, the two coaches began racking up frequent flier miles commuting between Athens, Ga. and D.C. to spend time together on free weekends.
Since coming to Virginia, the two recruiters have helped sign three top-20 ranked classes, spending countless days and hours out on the road trying to build up the future of the Cavalier program in addition to film sessions, individual workouts, opponent scouts and regular practices to help lead the current program to one common goal.
“We hate losing,” Cory said. “We want to win for Joanne, for this great university and for the community. I think that’s huge, and when we came here we said this is a great opportunity and we want to take full advantage. And to also show people that this can work. That this is a big sell. Winning helps.”
The McNeills already time-consuming jobs had a bonus challenge added on Jan. 4, 2013, when they welcomed a twin boy and girl to the family, Cayden and Gabrielle.
“We could stay after work really late to work on our scouts or recruiting or other things that need to get done, we still have those abilities, but I think that as parents, we’re gone so much and we still want to have an impact on our children’s lives,” Cory said. “It is important that we make that time for them as well. I will never forget, I was talking to one of my ex-bosses, Derek Brown, who is a mentor to me, said was the one thing he regretted was when his son was little, he was all into his job and he never spent enough time with his son. If he could do it all over again, he would immediately take two to three hours a night just to spend that time because it’s so important. When he told me that, it just resonated with me that we have to make the time for the kids as well.
“But we found a way by becoming night owls. If we are working on a scout, we’ll start watching film at about 9:30 after the kids have gone down. For me, I like to watch about five games. Now, three of them I’ll probably clip and do my edit tape, but I like to get four to five games in, if possible, of an opponent. And that can easily take, if you’re really watching it, an hour and a half to two hours per game. So we’re putting in at least I’d say almost eight to ten hours per scout, and maybe more than that, just from the standpoint of writing up all the notes, clipping it, and then making sure that what we want Joanne to see, she is able to see and understand what she needs to see. Then we need to also translate that to the kids, and make sure they’re aware of what we’re trying to do.”
This year, the twin’s second birthday was the same day as the Hoos’ game at Virginia Tech.
“I have already looked ahead three or four years to see where their birthdays fall in the schedule. Are we home or away or off on January 4,” Kim said. “Normally we don’t travel with them a lot, but since it was their birthday, I really wanted to see them, so we brought them along.”
Cayden and Gabby’s attendance at home games is never in doubt. Kim’s mother, Peady Hairston, the twins’ full-time caregiver, who is often accompanied by Cory’s mother, Pamela McNeill, pack up the twins and bring them to JPJ.
“The kids look forward to the home games. They LOVE them,” Cory said. “They yell `UVA! UVA! Go Hoos Go!’ and are calling out Faith, SI, Mikayla. When they watch men’s basketball, they call out Justin. My son is a die-hard Justin fan. They know when it is game day. When they see Mommy and Daddy come down ready to leave in a suit and a pretty dress, they are just as ready. They know at that point there is no `boo-hoo’ and crying. They know they’ll be going to the game.”