Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Coach G to UT (no, the other one)

In women's hoops, there is the UT -- Tennessee. Then there is the other UT -- Texas. This is because as ESPN exploded and its coverage of women's hoops grew in the late '80s and early '90s, Tennessee was one of the two preeminent programs in the country (Stanford, later eclipsed completely by Connecticut). UT has six titles and seeks a seventh tonight; Texas has one, from 1986 when the women's tournament was in its 5th season and did not have saturation coverage from the all-sports network.

Texas remained a big name in women's hoops despite no other title game appearances because its coach was one of the pioneering female head coaches in college hoops. Jody Conradt has more than 900 wins, but her team was rocked by a downturn in the 90s as Connecticut and Tennessee established themselves as the nation's dominant teams, and the Longhornettes have been decidedly mediocre in the past two years. Conradt left, on her terms but with a strong hint that it was time to go.

In steps Coach G, Gail Goestenkors -- a younger Nancy Pelosi look-alike without the corruption factor. Goestenkors has a near-Summit record for winning (396-99). She turned Duke into a top-flight women's program in a conference previously dominated by Virginia, NC State and Maryland. She has won seven ACC Coach of the Year awards, led four Final Four squads, but hasn't won the title (losses in 1999 and 2006). Despite her protestations of how this was a decision of the heart, in the end it was a decision of the wallet -- both the one she carries and the one UT(2) holds. Texas offered her an annual deal allegedly for $800,000 -- far more than Conradt's $550K and probably four times her salary at Duke, where for some reason she was the FIFTH highest paid coach (Coach K and football I can see, but who else?). Texas has vastly superior facilities to Duke, a good history (although its best years are far in the past), great booster support and short-flight proximity to the talent laden Houston and Dallas areas.

The next question for the ACC -- who benefits from Duke's loss (other than Virginia if it sacked Deb Ryan and hired Dawn Staley from Temple)? In women's hoops, outside the SEC, the head coach is more important to the school's success than any other factor because the sport is so young (tonight's is the 26th national title game) and most schools' programs were built from the ground up by a top coach (Tennessee, Texas, La. Tech, Connecticut, Duke). Goestenkors' decision is one of the first times (if not THE first) in women's hoops that a nationally prominent coach has left the program she built to take the same position at another national power. The firing of Renee Portland at Penn State and resignation of Goestenkors puts two prominent programs in an unfamiliar position: re-establishing their status without the coach who made those programs among the nation's best.

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