FSU women's basketball coach Sue Semrau discusses changed approach after year away
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After season away, Semrau brings renewed approach to FSU women's hoops

After a season away from the program she built into a national power, Florida State women's basketball coach Sue Semrau returned to the Seminoles toward the end of the spring semester and is currently leading her program through summer practices.

Semrau also is reshaping her approach and redefining her goals as she enters her 24th season at FSU.

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FSU women's basketball coach Sue Semrau is back with her team after taking last season off to help her mother, who was battling ovarian cancer.
FSU women's basketball coach Sue Semrau is back with her team after taking last season off to help her mother, who was battling ovarian cancer. (USAToday Sports Images)

In a new episode of a podcast co-hosted by former FSU basketball player Adrian Crawford, Warchant's Ira Schoffel, former FSU football player Corey Simon (who does not appear on this episode) and Brianna Clark, Semrau discusses a variety of topics related to her time away from the team, what she learned from the experience, how it is shaping her coaching style moving forward and more.

Semrau's appearance on the "Black & Mild" podcast begins with her going in-depth about why she decided to sit out the 2020-21 season and hand the reins over to former player and longtime assistant coach Brooke Wyckoff on an interim basis.

With her mother battling ovarian cancer back home in Seattle, Semrau knew it would be nearly impossible to spend time with her family there and also lead her program in Tallahassee. It would have been difficult under any circumstances, but especially in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Knowing that you had to quarantine on both ends," Semrau said. "And knowing I couldn't put my 100 percent into either one, Florida State graciously allowed me to step away for a year and give Brooke that opportunity that she did so well with. Not a lot of people get that opportunity -- Florida State allowed her that -- and really I think it's going to springboard her into her career at a higher level."

With her mother's health prognosis much improved, Semrau returned to FSU in April.

While she is back in her previous post as head coach -- a position she has held since 1997 -- Semrau explained that much has changed about her approach.

Having taken time to reflect on her career and life, Semrau said she realizes she had started placing too much emphasis on the wrong areas -- her status as a successful head coach, attracting media attention for her program, worrying about the number of fans attending home games, etc.

"My identity was in being a basketball coach," Semrau said. "And I hate that. Because I'm not going to be a basketball coach forever. So who was I? Who am I apart from this? And I started to really understand that."

When she first got into coaching, Semrau said, her primary focus was on building personal relationships -- with her players, assistant coaches and staff. But somewhere along the way to 15 NCAA Tournament appearances, five Sweet 16s and three Elite Eights, she found herself pursuing a "different definition of success."

Semrau says she lacked the self-awareness to realize how much she had changed through the years. But after using the down time last year to think -- and do a lot of reading and soul-searching -- she began to understand the changes she needed to make.

Semrau still obviously wants to win at a high level, but she wants to do it in a different way. The way she approached things earlier in her career.

"I only came back here if I could recruit, coach and build relationships," Semrau said, adding that she is now delegating many of her previous administrative tasks to Wyckoff.

One of her main goals now is to be “more present” for her team and others in the program.

"I've been able to re-enter the atmosphere, slowly, and build relationships again with the people I need to build relationships with -- my players," she said.

As excited as Semrau is about the future, she acknowledged that the pressures of big-time college athletics will likely challenge her resolve. She said the real “test” will be maintaining that mindset over time.

Semrau also discussed several other topics in the interview, including the new opportunities for student-athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness.

While some college coaches and administrators across the country have expressed reservations about the concept, Semrau said it has never made sense to her that college athletes don't have the same opportunities as other students.

As an example, she said she has hired -- and paid -- student musicians from FSU to perform in ensembles during various functions through the years.

"So they got a chance to use their gift [to make money]," Semrau said.

Now, student-athletes can as well.

When asked about concerns that things will spiral out of control, with colleges promising major financial deals through boosters as a recruiting inducement, Semrau said she doesn't think it will be as big of a problem as people suspect.

"I take it back to when I first started coaching," she said. "We could call players once a week. We could send them letters. And then here comes the cell phone. You could still call them once a week, send 'em letters, but no text messages! ...

"Then everybody was like, 'Whoa, what if we opened it up and let us text?' And then it was like, 'Wait, OK, let's have unlimited calls.' What?! Unlimited calls?! Are you kidding?! We're never going to get off the phone."

All these years later, Semrau said, no one even worries about that anymore.

"It all levels out," she said, adding that she's in favor of more freedom and less constraints. "It will level itself out."

The entire Semrau interview can be found on iTunes, Spotify and other podcast platforms.

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