Kim Mulkey's credentials are already legendary. The iconic head coach of the Lady Bear basketball team for the past dozen years is as decorated as a coach and former player possibly could be. State champion, national champion, Olympic gold medalist, player of the year, coach of the year -- all are labels bestowed upon Mulkey, some several times over. However, she says she has never received an award with the word 'mentor' in the title, until now.
"I'm not exactly sure what the award means, but I understand the word 'mentor' and I understand the word 'legendary', so I guess if you put them together, it's a good thing," laughs Mulkey.
From any seat in the Ferrell Center, it's plain to see Mulkey is a natural mentor during games, when she pulls aside one of her players for a quick pep talk, or when she occasionally shepherds an official on a call that, by the coach's estimation, could have been just a smidgen more accurate.
Mulkey says that every coach she ever played for was a mentor to her in some capacity, and that mentors must find their own way in stewarding healthy and productive relationships with young people.
"I think with the position of head coach or in any leadership position, you can't help but be a mentor," she says. "We don't necessarily use the word 'mentoring' in coaching, but it is in a sense what we do. We don't always realize how many people's lives are affected by the decisions that we make.
"People want to emulate others, and it's okay to incorporate what you admire from other people, but be yourself and always be truthful, always be prepared, and always be honest and fair."
She says she doesn't have a magic formula for being a successful mentor, but that it is more of a process of leading by example.
"I don't know that it's any secret or a book to read; I think you have to be yourself. I think relationships are developed over time, trust is developed over time, team chemistry is developed over time, and I think you don't talk about it, you just go to work and it evolves."
For Mulkey, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to mentoring -- it has to be an organic process.
"As a [basketball] coach, you have 15 young people that you're responsible for, and they don't all respond to the same style of coaching. Some need more hugs than others, some need more constructive criticism, some can take critical remarks. You just have to figure out what makes each one of these young people do her best, and it's our job as leaders and as coaches to figure it out, and it happens over time," Mulkey explains.
Still, Mulkey has a few common goals for every student-athlete she coaches.
"The one thing I want is to have put them in all types of situations so that when they leave here, they can make it in the real world. They can work for anybody because they've learned how to handle defeat, they've learned how to handle success, they've learned how to fight through obstacles, they've been able to take sports and deal with every type of emotion possible."
Mulkey tells her players that the college years are the best of their lives and that they should take advantage of their opportunity to focus on growing in all facets of their lives.
"You don't really have bills to pay, you don't have to change diapers, you don't have to deal with the real world. You are in a bubble here for a little while," Mulkey explains to them. "And when they leave here, they have to start over with a career. The main thing is that all of our players have graduated who have completed their eligibility at Baylor, and that's something that I feel good about because we didn't send them home and just use them to win basketball games."
Had it not been for an invitation into coaching soon after she represented the U.S. in the 1984 Olympics as its point guard, it's likely that instead of mentoring young women and winning national championships, Mulkey would be leading a successful business.
"My degree is in business administration, and I was working on my MBA at Louisiana Tech after the '84 Olympics, but I didn't get to finish it because I was talked into coaching by then-Louisiana Tech President Dr. F. Jay Taylor. So I guess I would probably not be working with young people as much if I were in the field of business."
Considering all the history that Mulkey has made during her 12 years at Baylor, Lady Bears fans everywhere should be thankful that Taylor, who passed away in May of 2011, coaxed Mulkey into coaching more than 25 years ago. For those Baylor fans wondering if Coach Mulkey might grow weary of mentoring young people and filling trophy cases and instead try her hand at business, she still fervently loves what has become her legendary career.
"I have a great passion for my job, and I don't ever become complacent," she says. "I believe fear of failure always motivates me. My health will take me out of coaching long before not being motivated will. As long as I have my health, I will remain motivated."