ATHENS, Ga. – Joni Taylor gets intense on the sideline coaching the Georgia Lady Bulldogs.
Her actions recently have been making her players nervous. It’s understandable. Taylor is coaching for two and she is due to give birth next month.
Taylor can laugh at the concerns because she said her doctor has not put any restraints on her.
“Not at all,” Taylor told The Associated Press on Monday when asked if doctors have any medical reservations. “The fans do. I get emails every day. People tell me to stop running, stop jumping, stop stomping.”
There’s little chance of that.
Taylor, 39, runs at least three times a week and clocked an 8-minute mile last week. When she’s not pregnant, she runs half-marathons. She’s not about to sit still now.
At the end of the Lady Bulldogs’ tight win over then-No. 13 Tennessee on Sunday, Taylor was fulling engaged. Her players seem to have one eye on the clipboard and the other on their coach.
“Oh man. She was stomping and everything,” guard Taja Cole Cole said. “She’s going to go into labor on the sideline soon!”
Taylor and her husband, WNBA Atlanta Dream assistant coach Darius Taylor, had their first baby girl, Jaci, about a week before the 2016-17 season. Joni said she is enjoying another smooth pregnancy.
“God has shown me tremendous favor,” Taylor said. “My pregnancies both have been very smooth. I had a very easy pregnancy with Jaci and a very easy delivery. I’ve had a very smooth pregnancy so far, the second time around. That has enabled me to have good energy, to be available for this program, our young ladies, our recruits.”
Taylor said she is “still waking up at 4 and 5 o’clock” for workouts and has had no morning sickness.
“That has allowed me to operate in a pretty normal way,” she said.
Taylor’s other baby is the Georgia women’s program.
She is in her fourth season as only the team’s second full-time coach. Andy Landers’ 36-year stint as coach included five Final Four appearances, 20 Sweet 16s and seven Southeastern Conference regular-season championships.
Taylor, who played at Alabama, was Landers’ top assistant when he retired.
Four-time Olympian Teresa Edwards was one of many former players who returned to cheer Georgia’s 66-62 win over Tennessee on Sunday. Edwards said she wants Taylor to surpass milestones reached by Landers, because Georgia is looking for its first national championship.
“I think her impact is coming,” Edwards said. “Anybody following Andy has a challenge. At the same time we didn’t get to the mountaintop so we left plenty of room for Joni to grow. I think in her short period of time she’s working really hard to change that culture back to what we built, back to the winning culture.”
Taylor led Georgia to a 26-7 record and 12-4 finish in the SEC last season, including the second round of the NCAA tournament . She was given a raise to $750,000 per year on a new contract through 2024.
Georgia was ranked No. 14 in the preseason Top 25 but fell out of the Top 25 with losses in November to UCLA , Georgia Tech and Maryland. The win over Tennessee was important in the Lady Bulldogs’ resurgence, especially following a close loss at No. 7 Mississippi State.
Georgia (12-5, 3-1 SEC) has won six of seven entering Thursday’s game at Missouri.
Taylor’s goal is to keep coaching as long as possible next month and then return for the end of the regular season and the SEC tournament scheduled to begin on March 6 in Greenville, South Carolina. As was the case two years ago, associate head coach Karen Lange will be the interim head coach while Taylor is away.
“If I have a smooth delivery this time around the way I did the first time, I plan to be back as soon as possible to finish the season before taking some time off,” she said.
Taylor said she has strong support from her husband, her parents – who are spending much time at the Taylors’ home – and athletic director Greg McGarity.
Before Jaci’s birth two years ago, Taylor felt it necessary to provide McGarity reassurance she had a plan while away from the team. She said she offered McGarity’s then-top assistant Carla Williams, now Virginia’s athletic director, a written schedule.
“She was like ‘I don’t need this,’” Taylor said of Williams. “I said what do you mean? She said ‘Greg and I are fully confident you have a plan in place or we would not have hired you, period. So you hold onto that. We don’t need to see it. We have confidence in you.’”
Those words from Williams, who played and coached under Landers at Georgia before becoming an administrator, provided comfort Taylor said she still relishes.
“When you have that kind of support from the top down, it puts you at ease and makes you feel good about where you are coming into work each day,” she said.
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