So, this is quite an unfamiliar spot for fans of the Lady Dogs: a coaching search. Andy Landers has decided to ride off into the sunset after 36 years at the helm in Athens, and now Greg McGarity is charged with finding a replacement. One has to assume that McGarity has had a "long list" in a desk drawer somewhere for the last 2-3 years, given Landers' declining fortunes and the inevitability that he wouldn't be around forever, so let's try to figure out what some of those names might be.
What qualities am I looking for in the next coach of the Georgia Lady Dogs? Well, my expectations are only slightly less than they were when we were looking for a gymnastics coach after Suzanne Yoculan retired. We don't have 10 national championships in basketball like we do in gymnastics, but our women's basketball program is still one of the most storied and successful in the country. Our facilities are among the best in the country (and better even than some WNBA facilities). Our fans have proven over the years that if you're a winner, they will come out in droves to support you. And we play in the best WBB conference in the country. The University of Georgia might not be a "Tier 1" job like UConn or Tennessee, but we're definitely a "Tier 1.5" job. The financial support is there, the fans are there, and the facilities are there. All we need is a person who can recruit and coach, and we can be just as big a player on the national stage as we ever have been.
As such, I want someone who has proven themselves on a big stage somewhere. I want someone who has either been a successful head coach at the Division I level or someone who has been a longtime assistant at an elite basketball program and is ready to step into the spotlight. I don't want someone who has been mediocre or an outright failure somewhere else, and I'd be extremely leery of an assistant coach from some unknown non-power school getting the promotion of her life. This is Georgia, dammit. We have the pedigree and the support to get a top-notch head coach, and I will not be satisfied with anything less.
I should note at the start, though, that I'm not an expert on the women's basketball world, so I might be missing a few obvious candidates in the list below. If I am, I'd certainly like to hear who they might be! With that in mind, let's look at a few potential candidates whose names have bubbled up, or who I have heard mentioned in the past as a potential replacement for Landers.
The candidates and their current coaching positions are listed below.
People who ain't gonna come, so don't even ask:
- Geno Auriemma (UConn), Tara Vandeveer (Stanford), Muffet McGraw (Notre Dame), Holly Warlick (Tennessee), Brenda Frese (Maryland)
My top candidates:
- Dawn Staley (South Carolina) - In my opinion, this is our Nick Saban/Jim Harbaugh/John Calipari. Dawn Staley is the hottest (potentially available) name in women's basketball right now. In 7 years, Staley has taken the Gamecock women's basketball program from being as abjectly dismal as their football program has historically been to a team that was ranked #1 for most of this past regular season. Staley has the credentials, and she has no natural personal connection to the USC program, other than what she herself has built over the last 7 years. And Staley does have a personal connection to Georgia legend Teresa Edwards, with whom she played on 2 Olympic Gold Medal teams. Still, 7 years is a long time to establish roots, and she has only really just begun to reap the benefits of the long years of
rebuilding work that she did in Columbia. Would she come to a historical basketball power in the same conference as her current school? I don't know. What I do know is that it would probably take more than one armored car to carry the amount of cash we'd have to offer to get her to even consider such a move... and Greg McGarity doesn't exactly like to let armored cars leave the premises of the Butts-Mehre Building.
- Kim Mulkey (Baylor) - This is probably a stretch, but Kim Mulkey is another coach, like Staley, that is at a school with whom she has no direct personal connection. Mulkey was a star player for Leon Barmore's Louisiana Tech team, and she become his #1 assistant for the latter portion of his career. When Barmore retired (an operation in and of itself that was botched), the LTU administration passed Mulkey over in their coaching search, so their snub became Baylor's gain. Mulkey did the same thing at Baylor that Staley has done at USC, except she won a national championship in only 4 years. The problem here is that Mulkey has been in Waco for 12 years now, and she does appear to have settled there. She now even has her old coach Barmore on her staff as an assistant. Moving to Athens would probably mean losing Barmore, so I don't think it's likely. Like they say, though... if you don't ask, you won't know for sure.
- Lindsay Gottlieb (California) - Gottlieb fits the mold I'm looking for, having been a longtime assistant at various programs who stepped up into the big chair at a lesser-known Division I program and has had success. Also, I think she might be far more likely to be willing to come to Athens than any "big name" coach like Staley or Mulkey. After being an assistant at Cal for 4 years, she was hired by UC Santa Barbara, whom she immediately took to the NCAA Tournament, and then 2 years after that the Golden Bears brought her back to Berkeley to fill the head role. In 4 years as head coach, she's made the NCAA field every year, and took Cal to the Final Four in 2013. (This year, the Golden Bears are a 4 seed, and are the designated sacrificial lamb for UConn in the Sweet Sixteen.) On top of that, the California University System has a reputation for being tight with the purse strings, so we could almost definitely outbid them for her services if it came to that.
- Matthew Mitchell (Kentucky) - Hey, remember when Kentucky stole our promising young basketball coach and we all wailed and gnashed our teeth about it? Well, revenge is a dish that is best served cold, Wildcats. Despite their unmatched men's basketball heritage (or, perhaps, because of it), the UK women's team has never really amounted to much on the national stage. Mitchell has been in Lexington for 8 years, and he has abruptly changed all that. In his tenure, he's responsible for 3 of the 4 Regional Finals in the program's history and 4 of the 6 Sweet Sixteens. And he's done it in the ultra-competitive SEC. That's a tough resume to beat. The down side is that UK is one of the few programs in the country that can absolutely beat us in basketball facilities, fan support, and just straight out willingness to put a large amount of cash in the coach's pocket. So I think it's unlikely that Mitchell could be lured to Athens.
Other potential candidates:
- Joni Crenshaw (Georgia Assoc. Head Coach) - Normally, after a successful long-time head coach retires, his/her top assistant is hired to "continue the direction of the program." Of course, that kind of thing rarely works out very well, but don't bother me with details, son. In this case, that person would be Joni Crenshaw, the current Associate Head Coach. The catch, though, is that Crenshaw has only been at Georgia for 3 years. She came to Athens after a long stint as an assistant at FSU, which isn't exactly a blue-blood, but did have some reasonably solid years while she was there. My other reservation with Crenshaw is that she's our recruiting coordinator... and we haven't exactly been tearing up the recruiting trail. (I'm willing to believe that some of that is Coach Landers' fault, too, though. It doesn't matter how good your recruiting coordinator is... if your head coach isn't recruiting as fiercely as you are, that's a problem.) I could understand a Crenshaw hiring if it happened, but I wouldn't be thrilled about it. I'd be taking a "wait and see, but not too long" attitude.
- Sue Semrau (Florida State) - Another potential FSU connection, Semrau was Joni Crenshaw's longtime head coach in Tallahassee. She has had modest success at the ACC school, pulling in 10 NCAA tournament appearances and garnering a #2 seed in the tournament this year. She only has 1 Regional Final and 1 additional Sweet Sixteen to her name in 18 years, though, at Florida's flagship institution of higher learning. To put it bluntly, there are better, younger coaches out there that we could pursue.
- Vic Shaefer (Mississippi State) - Shaefer is a long-time assistant who, in just his 3rd year of major head coaching experience, has taken Mississippi State from nowhere to a 26-6 record and a 5-seed in the NCAA tournament. He was also the #1 assistant on the 2011 Texas A&M team that won the national championship, as well as Arkansas' 1998 Final Four team. So he knows what it feels like to make it on the national stage (as an assistant, at least). Unfortunately, Shaefer is a Texas man, and his stint in Starkville is literally the first time he's lived or worked in a state that wasn't named "Texas" or "Arkansas." I don't know if he would even want to come further east. He's also almost as old as DaveTheDawg, which makes me a little uncomfortable. (I'm just putting this in here to see if DtD is reading this.)
- Susie Gardner (Mercer) - If someone was looking to hire from the "Andy Landers coaching tree"... well, that tree ain't exactly a 150-year-old live oak, if you know what I mean. Gardner would be one of those names, and has been the coach down in Macon for 5 years. The problem is that the Bears just haven't been good enough during her tenure to justify giving her a huge promotion to one of the best programs in the country.
- Bernadette Locke Mattox - Coach Mattox is a very famous former Lady Dog for a number of reasons. She was an All-American player for Andy Landers and was one of his assistants after graduation, but her biggest claim to fame is probably that she was the first female assistant coach at a men's program in Division I basketball. Rick Pitino hired her as an assistant when he was at Kentucky, and she became a household name in that state. Then, in 1995, she was hired as women's head coach in Lexington, and that... didn't go so well. UK only made the NCAA tournament once in her tenure, and her teams only had 2 winning seasons overall. After UK, she was an assistant coach in the WNBA for a while, but she's been out of coaching entirely, as far as I can tell, for the last 3 years. She's been named to the Circle of Honor in Athens, but that ain't a reason to hire her as head coach.
- Tyler Summitt (Louisiana Tech) - Pat Summitt's son, who just finished his first year as a head coach and barely broke .500? No. Just no.