Firings and retentions reflect on schools

It’s always interesting to see which colleges and universities choose to make a coaching change this time of year, and which opt to do nothing at all. Their choices, either way, reflect on the school and how they value women’s basketball.

Firings or non-retentions are often not a surprise; fans could see it coming as losses mounted season after season – and as energy seemed to be sucked out of a program. But schools have different toleration rates.

Gina Castelli and Siena mutually agreed last week that she would leave the program after 22 years. Illinois coach Bruce Weber was let go after nine years. Diana Takahara-Dias was dismissed from Hawaii after only three.

Without doubt, there are subtexts, agreements and side stories in many of these cases that we’ll never know. What I find even more interesting than the schools who fire a coach are those who opt to ignore poor coaches.

Until today, I thought Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles would keep coach Julie Wilhoit forever. But they decided not to retain her, after 17 seasons.

Wilhoit’s last great season was 2003-2004, when she was West Coast Conference coach of the year, and her team went a season-best 24-6. Since then, the Lions have sputtered and stalled, and have racked up losing or .500 records. This past season, despite being stacked with talent, athletes seemed out of sync on the court.

LMU is doing what any college that cares about women’s hoops would do, and they’re making a coaching change. I wish I could say the same for a few other schools.

There are two Western universities, in particular, who I believe need to get rid of their coaches and start fresh. I’m waiting to see if they’ll do that this spring.

What should be the criteria for removing a coach? Continuous losses. A good limit is five years; if a team has a losing record for five years – encompassing the entire careers of some athletes – and finish near the bottom of the conference each time, the coach should be removed, simple as that. How well a team does in their conference tournament should not suffice to negate the losing record and low conference standing of the previous years.

While my heart goes out to anyone who loses a job in this economy, the welfare of athletes needs to be put first. Athletes will have to live with memories of ineffective coaching and a wealth of losses for the rest of their lives. Competent coaches need to be put in place to grow a program. Coaches that can’t do that don’t necessarily need to be blamed, but they do need to be replaced.

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  1. Sue,

    I think its always case by case. Because some jobs are built to finish at the bottom (lack of resources, lack of support, etc) and so they simply aren't capable of consistently having a winner – There are schools like that around the country both east and west.

    As they say some jobs are stepping stone jobs, while others are kidney stone jobs (as in will cause them).

  2. Interesting piece. Seems like a subject that should be written on in more detail as I keep hearing about the concerns that the percentage of women coaches continues to decrease but I haven't seen any real data.

    Have read multiple complaints in blog posts about the trend though.

    It does kind of make a person wonder why LMU kept Wilhoit around so long after it looks like she became ineffective. GS

  3. Any idea who they will replace Wilhoit with? How about Mark Trakh who was great at pepperdine and had a tough run at USC?

  4. Trakh just finished his first season as head coach at New Mexico State. He bought a house there, so he likely won't be going anywhere soon.

    Several have applied for the LMU head coach position, and it's my understanding they're conducting interviews. It sounds like we may know who the new coach will be fairly soon.

  5. I also am glad to see her go! she definitly was clueless on the court. she messed with the girls heads way to much. If she did'nt like you, well then your not gonna play. Ju;lie Wilhoit hurt alot of people and did't care one bit.

    from anonymous poster

  6. Wilhoit was mean spirited and I am sure she had the AD cowered. I hope no one hires her at the high school or college level. I am wondering when she sues LMU………….

  7. Who do like as the next womens coach at LMU? Do you think the entire staff should be dismissed? Do you think the players are breathing a sigh of relief now that the reign of Wihoit is over?

  8. Just read the LMU statement on the Wilhoit firing; for a 17 year employee she merited 1/4 page on their kiss-off statement. I would venture to guess that the athletic department was tired of everything. The next coach should be more well rounded in life experiences: someone who does not live in a hermetically sealed world. LMU is a plum job if they get the right fit. Do you think LMU would hire a man?

  9. Any thoughts on the new LMU hire? Will the husband be coming to make a LBSU type combo? Should LMU thrown a wider net in its coaching search?

  10. Nice article. LMU still has not posted who the assistants will be. Do you have any idea who they are? Do you have any insight who will be the new USC assistants?