Tricia Cullop’s name is synonymous with winning – but for her, coaching the University of Toledo’s Women’s basketball team has never been about that.
Cullop, the winningest coach in UT Women’s Basketball history, began the 2023-24 season, her 16th season, with a program she has transformed into a nationally-recognized powerhouse.
Under her leadership, the Rockets have made 10 trips to the postseason, including winning the 2011 WNIT title. Cullop’s teams have won MidAmerican Conference regular season Championships in 2011, 2013, 2022 and 2023 along with 2017 and 2023 MAC Tournament Championships. Cullop has been named MAC Coach of the Year five times, in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2022 and 2023.
The coach’s lifelong dedication to basketball has always focussed on developing her players into good people.
Developing the passion
Cullop’s passion for the sport came early, with her father teaching her in her younger years and Cullop continuing playing on teams while in grade school and high school. Inspired by the hard work of her mother, an elementary school teacher, and her father, a supervisor for the state highway commission, Cullop learned good leadership skills and how to make an impact on those around her.
At North Knox High School in Southern Indiana, Cullop learned the impact a coach can have from her own coach, Rick Marshall. “I [explain] to people that I want to pay forward what he did for me. Not only did he help me with the game of basketball, but [also] how to maturely think about life,” Cullop said.
Through her teens Cullop put in the hard work, allowing her to stand out and make a career of basketball. She played on summer teams, worked with a trainer at a local park and, because her mom was a teacher, sometimes had access to the elementary school gym to get extra practice. Due to Marshall’s guidance, the support of her Southern Indiana community and her talent, Cullop went on to play college basketball at Purdue University.
The Road to UT
At Purdue, Cullop continued her hard work and commitment. Her college team won Purdue’s first ever Big 10 Championship and made three straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
All of those accomplishments Cullop credits to her teammates and to Head Coach Lin Dunn, a Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer and 2012 WNBA Championship winning coach for the Indiana Fever.
“I feel very lucky to not only have played for her, but also to have played with some teammates who really knew the game,” Cullop relates. “(My teammates and I) really cared and invested extra time to be the best we could possibly be, and we understand that now it’s our turn to pay it back.”
Cullop served as an assistant women’s basketball coach at Radford, Long Beach State and Xavier, before taking over as head coach of Evansville University in 2000. She was named the Missouri Valley Coach of the Year in 2008 before becoming the coach at the University of Toledo.
Coaching a Winningest Team
Cullop reflects on the last 16 years at Toledo and how her strategy and approach to the team has evolved over time. She considers herself fortunate that at Toledo she has had players who helped her to establish the program and expand the school’s recruiting reach.
Some of the players she coached early in her UT tenure included standouts like Allie Clifton, Yolanda Richardson and Naama Shafir, setting the standard for what Cullop and the coaching staff look for when recruiting new players; what Cullop refers to as the three A’s: athleticism, academics and attitude.
“I want people who represent us with class, and make people want to buy tickets to come to our games because they enjoy the interactions with the players,” Cullop said. “When we find those three (As), we know we’ve got something special.”
The fan interactions have truly paid dividends for UT Women’s Basketball, as it has owned the MAC Attendance Record for 32 straight seasons.
What sets Cullop’s coaching style and team apart is both the special individuals on the team and the team culture which espouses the “Blue Collar, Gold Standard” motto which directs the team to do everything they can to help better the community when they’re not in the gym.
Packing lunches for Connecting Kids to Meals, volunteering at the Northwest Ohio Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure or handing out candy at Trunk-Or-Treats during Halloween, along with many other community-based activities, Cullop’s teams work hard to give back.
Cullop credits her teams and coaching staff with earning her the title of “winningest coach” in UT Women’s Basketball history. “I’ve worked really hard, but none of this would have happened without those two groups of people,” Cullop said.
Invest, Improve, Inspire
Cullop’s accolades aren’t limited to her recognition on UT’s campus. She has served on the board of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association for a decade, with two years as vice president and two years as president, and for her work on the board she was honored with the 2022 WBCA Carol Eckman Integrity in Coaching Award, an acknowledgement of her success, on and off the court, throughout her 30-year coaching career.
Cullop approaches both her work and personal life by following a specific motto: Invest, Improve, Inspire. “In order to be successful, you must invest time and resources into yourself, set goals to improve yourself and take the time to inspire others to be the best versions of themselves,” Cullop said.
Now, with her contract at Toledo extended through the 2029-30 season, Cullop is looking toward the future with her team. “We feel very honored to get to step through that door every day and represent Toledo,” Cullop said. “We’re bringing our best to get our kids outside their comfort zone, to challenge them to be the best version of themselves they can be every day, and if we do that, hopefully we’ve helped them reach a potential they didn’t know that they could. I hope they then return that favor to someone in their life, and pay it forward just like I’m trying to do for the coaches that did it for me.”
Get to know Coach Cullop
What is the last book that you read or one that you’re reading right now?
You’ve Been Chosen by Cynthia Marshall, the CEO of the Dallas Mavericks.
What music are you listening to right now?
A little bit of everything. Country, pop, R&B, it depends on the day. Give me some P!nk and some Adele and I’m a happy person.
What is your favorite sports movie or television show?
Remember the Titans. You’re teaching people with very different backgrounds and beliefs to come together. I also love Ted Lasso.
What are some hobbies or special interests that you have outside of work?
I have dogs, and one of my favorite things is to get them out for a walk. I love to read, go to movies and, if I have the opportunity to go to a live concert or play, I love that, too.
How do you care for your personal health, both physical and mental?
Finding balance. I always tell my players, it’s never as good as it seems, and it’s never as bad as it seems. Blocking off times in the day to work out and to do things I enjoy, and staying in touch with people I love the most.
Is there any fictional character that you identify with?
Ted Lasso. I do think what we do is serious, but I also try to find humor with my players so they don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s important to teach them how to laugh about something.
What are the qualities that you value in those that you work with professionally and those that you associate with personally?
People with strong values, who are organized, who are truthful and honest. I love people who are great communicators.
Outside of UT, what sports team(s), both professional and collegiate, do you root for?
Purdue and Indiana. I do enjoy football – I love watching the Toledo Football team.
If you could give your childhood self any piece of advice or encouragement, what would you say?
Always keep learning. Surround yourself with people who are going to push you to be better, and keep looking for ways to improve.