But all of that success pales in comparison to the birth of his first-born daughter, Lila Gail Hardin, on Jan. 8.
“She’s our first and learning fatherhood and learning how that goes and my dog’s actually a girl too,” Hardin said. “So coaching women, I’m just surrounded by women now.”
For a few days in early January, Hardin’s life was surrounded by chaos. After a 61-52 home win over Union College on Wednesday, Jan. 6 and a normal day on Thursday, Hardin’s wife Tanika went into labor, facilitating a Friday drive to Bristol where the couple previously planned for her to give birth.
Hardin witnessed the coming into the world of five-pound 12-ounce Lila Gail. Then he drove back to Bluefield on Saturday to coach the Lady Rams to a 72-65 conference win over Milligan College on Saturday before driving back to Bristol that night.
“My mind was a little gone,” Hardin said. “I really praise our team for that win. I really don’t think I did a very good job in the Milligan game. But they took up for me and they got the win for us anyway.”
Hardin’s first child comes at a time when his program is breaking new ground of its own. Most notably, the Lady Rams received votes in the NAIA Division II poll for the first time ever. But that is only the tip of the iceberg.
“We did a lot of things this year that’s a first for the history of the school,” Hardin said. “I think beating Union College was a first time ever ’cause I know they came into the league a little later. I think that we’ve only beaten Milligan one other time. It was on the road I think four years ago.
“And then being third in the NCCAA is a first. We’ve been steadily 5 to 3 the whole year. So that’s really, really, really nice, a nice feeling to get noticed a little bit.”
Since Hardin took over the program in December of 2007, he has preached a total team concept where the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.
“Our girls are working extremely hard,” Hardin said. “It’s a testament to them on buying into the team and we play a lot of people, so they’re going to sacrifice a lot of their own individual stats or just playing time or stuff like that for the better good of the team.
“Last year we pretty much laid the groundwork in bringing in some key players this year that’s helped us as well. It’s just been huge. We try to beat people by numbers and for the most part that’s worked for us.”
Hardin has not been afraid to recruit a lot of new players or utilize everybody on his bench. Initially, he was afraid that the new style would be a tougher sell than it turned out to be.
“We’re going to play a lot of people and the max amount of minute you’re going to play might be 20, but everybody’s going to get a chance and an opportunity to help us out,” Hardin said. “We try to play as hard as we can for three minutes and tap out and let five others go in and play as hard as they can for three minutes.”
Those three minute bursts have been one key to the Rams’ resurgence. Another was their difficult schedule to begin the season.
“We thought at the start of the year that if we could just somehow get through it without hating each other, we’d be pretty good ’cause we knew that November was brutal and we thought that last year we did a good job early,” Hardin said.
“We won some games early. Our schedule wasn’t as tough early. I thought that we played some very good teams, but overall this year’s schedule is much tougher than last year’s. I just think that last year after Christmas we hit a wall. So we really talked to them about that and I think that’s really helped us.”
Hardin’s club has managed to accomplish great things already despite not being experienced in how to do so.
“I always thought that we had a good enough nucleus and I thought we had good enough players too to contend for the title this year,” Hardin said. “But when not having much success before, it’s hard to understand what it takes night-in, night-out in the conference.”
Nonetheless, the Lady Rams are where they are because his players have bought into Hardin’s plan, used their brutal early schedule to adapt to conference play and, most importantly, learned how to win.
“We’ve got girls that’ll sacrifice what they need for the team,” Hardin said. “They want to win. They know that’s the No. 1 most important thing no matter if they have a bad night, somebody else is going to pick them up.
“We play so many people that it’s O.K. if you’re not playing that well that night, that another one’s going to step in and fill those shoes for that night and then we’ll come back and get it the next night. I’ve just been totally tickled to death with how they’ve bought into it, how they’ve just embraced it and made that next step to building a true team.”
They also could be building something greater, a program to rival the men.
“We would love for that to happen,” Hardin said. “I don’t think we’re going into competing where we want to be more then them. I think it’s a staplehold of just all sports getting better, it just shows where the college is growing and that we’ve got great coaches in every sport that we have now.
“Back in the day, men’s basketball was all Bluefield had and they were always very good with coach (Tommy) Brown and them and when coach (Jason) Gillespie was here as well. So definitely we want to be up there thinking in the same realm as men’s basketball was.”
Like Brown and Gillespie, Hardin is finding immediate success as a head coach. Now with a new daughter to take care of, the only question now is how long he will stay at the helm of the Lady Rams.
“You’re always going to leave the door open and in life you’re always wanting to go on to that next stage,” Hardin said. “But Bluefield College is a great place to work and I love it here. I feel like we’re building something and I want to continue to build it.”