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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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