The Walk To 500
By Brian Holloway
Press conferences at North Carolina A&T are seismic events. It is like anointing a new king. People come from far and wide to see who will be crowned. On March 16, 2005, the media and Aggies gather at the Bryan Fitness and Wellness because they think a new figurative king of athletics is going to be named.
At the time, A&T was going on four months without a full-time AD. Therefore, it made sense the only suspense of the day would not be what positions was being filled, but who was filling it.
With the A&T backdrop standing high in the back of the multipurpose room, blue and gold peppers the room. Then Chancellor James C. Renick comes in among a sea of people so vast, there are people standing up against the walls. The women's basketball team, for some reason, relaxes in reserved seating.
Renick is dressed for the part. He steps in dressed in a dark pinstriped suit, shoes freshly shined as he displays a stride only reserved for those who walk on air. But not even his swagger could grab the attention away from the woman behind him. She was tall, mature and gorgeous. Even in stilettos, her stride rivaled Renick's. Her fashion sense was out of Bergdorf Goodman. Her smile said "I'm No. 1" before anyone hears her voice. Even in the magnificence of her entrance, she looks familiar.
Wait a minute? Is the new AD Pat Bibbs? The same Pat Bibbs, who when she came into A&T's Corbett Sports Center as the Hampton women's basketball coach, she walked away with a victory, the same smile and stride each time? She's the AD?
A&T meets Patricia
A&T wasn't anointing a new king. The Aggies were hiring the queen of women's basketball coaches in the MEAC and putting her in charge of the Palace at Corbett.
There may have been some in the audience that day who were disappointed they were getting a women's basketball coach instead of a director of athletics. After all, the glory days for the A&T women's program were over. The teams from the early-to-mid 90's were long gone and losing was the norm.
Somebody forgot to give Bibbs the numbers. "I want to thank Chancellor Renick for this opportunity, and chancellor," she said as she looked toward him. "We're going to win you some championships."
Ha! Ha! Yeah, right!
She must have missed tenure when the AD became the coach. Was she around the night when A&T played with four players? Championships? Who is she fooling?
But as she kept talking, it's apparent she is serious. The "C" word flows out of her mouth with regularity. Ten minutes into the press conference, she goes for her grand finale.
"What is your coaching philosophy?" How do you expect to win?" said a slender reporter, unfamiliar with what had occurred in MEAC women's hoops over the last eight years.
Bibbs turns to him, her smile gone from her face temporarily as she stands even taller. It is Aggieland's first indication of what the roles are according to Bibbs. She is here to win; everyone else needs to pay attention.
"What's my philosophy?" she asked, seeming almost puzzled as to why he didn't already know.
"Obviously, you haven't been around here very long," she said with a chuckle as the crowd, feeding off her every word, starts to laugh.
"Shameka standup," Bibbs ordered. Shameka Glover, the Aggies' all-conference point guard stands up; unaware of what is coming next. "Tell everyone in this room what we do."
Without hesitation, Glover blurts out, "pressure defense."
"It really is 40 minutes of...heck," she said, cleaning it up for the dignitaries as she spoke from experience. It is a phrase made famous by one of Bibbs' mentors, former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson.
"You know, when I first come in, they usually don't know," said Bibbs in a forgiving tone. "They don't know about a Pat Bibbs-coached team. By the time I leave, they all know."
Seven years later, there are few people in the Greensboro community who don't know who Patricia Cage-Bibbs is. She has twice broken the school record for wins, while winning three regular-season championships and leading A&T to three postseason appearances, including an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2009.
Her starting five in 2008-09, consisted of the MEAC Preseason Player of the Year - Amber Bland - and the MEAC Player of the Year - Brittanie Taylor-James.
She has a fan following at A&T that most major Division I women's programs would envy. The fan site bluedeathvalley.com has a picture of her at the top of its page with a caption that reads, "In Bibbs We Trust."
Her fashion sense and style of dress has become almost as much a part of her persona as her many blowout wins in MEAC play. The fancy stilettos and designer dresses and suits don't come without sacrifice and hard work, however.
"I believe in me," said Bibbs as she reflected on that day and her last seven years at A&T. "I am not going to be outworked."
There is a country town in Louisiana called Choudrant. Its population is 584. People affectionately call the lower portion of Choudrant Treemont Bottom. As you walk up the vast landscape of Treemont Bottom, there is a stretch of farmland nicknamed Cage Hill.
Lou Della Cage and LC Cage have 10 children on that hill - seven boys and three girls. Two of those children die at birth, leaving the Cages with six boys and two girls. They name the third of those children, Patricia Dianne Cage in 1950.
There are no department stores in Choudrant, but there are corn and pea fields to plow and wood to chop. Like many families during the late 50's and early 60's, the Cages had their children work their farm.
They grow their own food. They feed hogs, shuck corn, milk cows, pick peas and sack cotton. Those experiences would give Bibbs many precious memories she still cherishes today. The ability to be given a task and exceed expectations is her passion.
Brothers and sisters watch as Pat packs three bushels of peas instead one. In overalls and sandals, when no one is looking, Pat stuffs a few more pieces of cotton into her bale so when it is weighed, she has more. Fishing became Pat's opportunity to keep her hook in the water until she pulled out more fish than most.
"I was blessed to grow up in the country," said Bibbs. "I learned discipline. I learned dedication to a task. Before you could play, you had to make sure those chores were done. It taught me how to prioritize."
"She was never in any trouble," said Bibbs' mother who is now referred to as Lou Della Wade Cage-Morris. "She stayed in her books."
Before she aims her sights on winning titles, she learns how to handle a hunter's gun. LC looks in amazement as Pat's brothers teach her how to handle a rifle. She takes a liking to it. It is not long before Pat is taking her father's raccoon dogs out to hunt.
One of the dogs is named Pat because of her aggressiveness. Aggressive Pat becomes an All-American outdoorswoman.
"What can I say? I'm a markswoman," Bibbs said with a slight hint of humbleness. "I don't want to get anyone upset, but that's what we did in the country. We were hunters."
Young Pat can kill three raccoons at one time. "Look here, I wasn't a boy, but I could hang. When you grow up around boys, you learn to be tough."
She was a person of order. Her ability to clean a house and keep everything in order impresses her sister Vicky.
That is what LC, also known as Louis Charles, Sr., teaches - toughness and organization.
Bibbs calls her father her inspiration. He is stern, outspoken and compassionate. When you're sitting at church and LC turns and gives you the eye, whether you are a cousin, a son or a family friend, you sit up straight and pay attention to the preacher. He once told her things are never as tough as it seems. Be strong, persevere and use God's grace every step of the way.
"She takes a whole lot after her father," said Bibbs' mother. "She got her ways just like her daddy. She believed in people doing the right thing. She was a leader. She looked after her brother and sisters because I always working. She took good care of them."
Also, never let anyone outwork you. Those are the same words that drive Pat to stay up all night to this very day, until she beats at a card game, a board game or marbles. "Win or lose, after a game, she is up until two in the morning trying to figure how to get better," said her husband Ezil Bibbs.
Bibbs' mother calls Pat the female version of her husband.
"He was our rock," Bibbs said. "He taught us how to dream and how to realize those dreams."
Those teachings leads Bibbs to leave Cage Hill. She says she always knew there was more out there for her. She graduates from Grambling State University in 1972 with a degree in physical education.