Slone coaches Illini women's golf under same principles as mentor

By Benjy Sabitt

Tweet: @IlliniWGolf head coach Renee Slone won’t forget the lessons she learned from the woman who she took over for, Paula Smith.

Renee Slone’s eyes light up when she talks about the woman who had her job before her.

Hall of Fame coach Paula Smith was Illinois’ women’s golf head coach for 28 years and Slone took over in 2006 following Smith’s retirement. Slone played for Smith at Illinois from 1990-1993.

“We maintain a strong relationship now, I’m in contact with her all the time,” Slone said. “I’ll still go to her for advice and to get another perspective.”

Slone tries to instill in her players the same values and ideas that Smith taught her. Smith’s loyalty made a lasting mark on Slone.

“Paula is an extremely loyal person. People say she bleeds orange and blue and that’s true,” Slone said. “She cares deeply about this institution and its athletic department.” 

Slone added that Smith taught her “the meaning of being true to something, and when you make a commitment you follow through on that no matter what.”

When Slone was a player for Smith she was able to accomplish quite a bit. She was the Illinois Dike Eddleman Female Athlete of the Year in 1991 and 1992, a three-time All-Big 10 selection (1991,1992,1993), and still holds the school record for averages strokes per round (75.35). But Slone isn’t interested in talking about her personal accolades.

“I want every one of my records to be broken, absolutely” Slone said. “I want to be able to help our team members achieve whatever they can and rewrite the record books.”

She said her experiences as a player have helped her as a coach. 

“Some things never change, such as loyalty you have for a school, and the love you have for it,” Slone said. “It’s a similar experience.”

Slone has seen many things change since her time as a player at Illinois, and more has changed since she became head coach 10 years ago. She’s seen some major facility upgrades, but said the biggest change is the recruitment process for coaches and the decision process for players.

“The process of recruitment and college decision-making is starting earlier and earlier,” Slone said. “There are a lot more opportunities to get exposure.”

Through her time at Illinois as a player and a coach, Slone has seen opportunities for female athletes expand.

“When I was in high school I played on the men’s team,” Slone said. “We didn’t have enough girls for a team. Growing up I played in a lot of the Illinois Junior Golf Association events where I would be the only girl in a field of about 80-100 guys.

“The number of opportunities that are available now for females, it’s exciting to see. Not just the quantity of girls playing is changing but also the quality.”

It’s been 10 years since Slone agreed to become the head coach, and said her relationship with Smith played a major role in her decision-making.

“Coach Smith came to me 2-3 years before she retired and told me about her plans, trying to plant a seed for me.” Slone said. “I saw this as an opportunity to have an impact on young people’s lives and helping them improve as people, not just athletes”

Slone talks a lot about the opportunities for her players, and doesn’t want them to lose sight of how lucky they are to be in the position they’re in. This is another lesson she took from Coach Smith.

Slone has her players write gratitude journals once a week on many different topics. Last week they wrote about a support staff member that they are grateful for.

“I want the players to realize how fortunate we are to have this opportunity, and not take that for granted.” Slone said.

“I want to be able to able to look back 20 or 30 years from now and be able to say, I was a part of that”