Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Penn State Could Take a Lesson From Texas in Coaching Search

By Mel Greenberg

Back in the winter of 1976, a fledgling University of Texas women's basketball team made a trip to the Northeast to play such schools as Immaculata and Penn State because they were the programs that the Longhorns could use to properly measure their own growth and aspirations.

Now why does the Guru mention this fact?

Simply, the tables have turned.

Penn State, in its search for a successor to longtime coach Rene Portland, could take a lesson from Texas.

When Hall of Fame coach Jody Conradt retired last month, Texas wasted little time letting word get out it was targeting Duke's Gail Goestenkors and succeeded in landing its woman, so to speak.

Penn State, on the other hand, almost seems to be operating in mid-major fashion.

Now why does the Guru hold the operation to a higher standard?

Because not too long ago, that's where the Nittany Lions existed as a regular resident of the weekly Associated Press poll, including many seasons among the Top 10.

In fact, there were a few times PSU even managed to receive No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, even though the Nittany Lions were unable to make good on the perk, such as it was.

Several years ago, before the Portland controversy involving her reported disdain for players who are gay, the Guru and some of his media colleagues speculated on candidates for potential vacancies in the near-future as longtime veteran coaches move on.

Certainly, one would think, athletic adminstrators interested in continued success of their women's programs would do likewise lining up potential replacements in their mind.

An aside: Apparently in the recent examples of California and Baylor, to cite a few, those schools decided the replacements would be the current coaches by offering them lucrative contract extensions.

Returning to the Guru's narrative, potential Penn State candidates became part of the media discussion because of Portland's longevity.

Your Guru suggested, if I was Penn State, I might not be able to pry her loose, but my first move would be to ask Notre Dame for permission to talk to Muffet McGraw.

She's got the track record with the Irish and she's a home-grown product of the Keystone State.

That is the mode Penn State should have been ready to work under once its vacancy occurred.

If rumors are true that Portland's exit may not have been entirely of a voluntary nature, one would think someone in charge would have been doing their homework to go after a successor the way Texas quickly went after Goestenkors.

That mindset in Happy Valley existed years ago when a PSU athletic director who happened to be named Joe Paterno targeted Portland to fill its vacancy. (That was before anyone had any knowledge of her non-basketball view of the world).

As it stands now, barring some surprise move, it appears a caretaker will be appointed which, for the school, means paying a salary not exactly competitive with what has been tossed around in other places the last several weeks.

If so, it might not hurt to give Theresa Grentz a call to gauge her interest after the Women's Basketball Hall of Famer decided to resign from Illinois on Tuesday. She certainly didn't preclude coaching elsewhere in her interviews and Grentz has also managed to succeed in bringing revenue to the athletic department, as she once did at Rutgers.

In Grentz's situation, however, she could not be a bargain-basement salaried hire.

If the former Illini coach would end up taking the job, there would be some irony, because Portland replaced her at St. Joseph's in Philadelphia in 1976. That's when Grentz took the Rutgers job, then a landmark move because the school did not require either teaching class or coaching another sport.

Years later, it was Portland who coaxed her former Immaculata teammate to move into the Big Ten and take the Illinois job.

Meanwhile, George Washington coach Joe McKeown's name was tossed around late last week as a finalist. That was news to the native of Philadelphia who had not had any contact with the university.

Connecticut assistant Chris Dailey has also been a hot topic of conversation, but the longtime aide to Geno Auriemma may have yet to be contacted, as well.

In fact, for the all the purported leaks, if anyone of any stature is involved in the search, one would think someone would have seen that individual being taken around on a tour of the Penn State facilities.

And get this: Even though Penn State officials are operating in tight secrecy, it wouldn't hurt for legitimate leaks to get out to the masses if PSU is talking to prominent candidates. At least the school would get credit for stepping to the plate.

Without regards to gender, Penn State needs to look at the success factor, and it doesn't have to be limited to Division I.

For example, Holy Family's Mike McLaughlin here in Philadelphia has had a terrific track record in Division II with the Tigers.

Kevin McGuff at Xavier also has a history of success dating back to his days as an assistant to McGraw at Notre Dame.

Xavier assistant Kristin Cole, and Maryland assistant Joanna Bernabei, who both interviewed for the Duquesne job, are also worthy candidates.

Stephanie Gaitley at Long Island, who formerly coached at St. Joseph's, is another name that has been mentioned as someone the Nittany Lions may want to approach.

True, her exist at St. Joseph's was controversial but the situation seems to have been managed at LIU and we're not going to re-visit that topic, here. That's why goggle was invented.

Perhaps someone off of Vivian Stringer's staff at Rutgers, such as Jolette Law or Carlene Mitchell, needs to be at least explored for their potential interest.

The Colonial Athletic Association has a slew of persons worth talking to, although the assumption here is it would take much to extract Wendy Larry from Old Dominion.

On the other hand, taking a shot is what it's all about.

Elsewhere, in the CAA, however, Tina Martin,who has familiarity with the State College locale, has done an outstanding job at Delaware. So has Kenny Brooks at James Madison.

And what about Krista Kilburn-Steveskey at Hofstra, who won the Women's Basketball Coaching Association's first Maggie Dixon award as rookie coach of the year.

Yeah, Kilburn-Steveskey has only been at Hofstra one year, but Maryland was not shy about targeting Brenda Frese after her initial year at Minnesota when she turned the Gophers around.

And there are a few more out there. Cheryl Reeve, for an example, is an assistant with the WNBA-champion Detroit Shock who once was an assistant to McKeown at George Washington.

Another aside: Several years ago before the recent Penn State controversy, when Suzie McConnell-Serio jumped from the high school ranks and took the Minnesota job in the WNBA, it was suggested that she would get the coaching experience needed to move to her alma mater at Penn State when Portland might decide to leave the program.

``I'll be a grandmother by then,'' McConnell-Serio said at the time with a laugh.

Well, that part is no longer true.

But, noting this is being written in the middle of the night from Tuesday to Wednesday, barring any impending news in the next few days, McConnell-Serio might well become one by the time Penn State decides to pull the trigger.

-- Mel


Anonymous pilight said...

If they were looking for a Pennsylvania native with a well known name and a strong track record, they should have been pursuing Dawn Staley.

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rumor has it there is a reason Jemelle Elliot turned down Fairfield...yep, she may be heading to the recently Not-So-Happy-Valley!
If she is offered and accepts then they get an up and comer who has learned from the BEST in the business. If not, then how can anyone suggest Grentz...absolutey ridiculous!!! She hasn't gotten it done for years...recruiting or coaching - unfortunately the game has passed her by. With all due respect to the candidates you mentioned few of them warrant the consideration that Brian Giorgis deserves!!! The man has demonstrated for years that he can coach and his staff has shown an ability to recruit the RIGHT kids! Please, if you are going to write out a grocery list of potential candidates...don't exclude the names that need to be at the top of the list or at least should be since in all honesty -- it's simply speculaton!!!!

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another Pennsylvania native with a strong track record is Curt Miller. He has orchestrated a masterful turnaround of the Bowling Green program over the last few years. He will take some school to the national championship someday -- Penn State, Michigan State, Kentucky et al would be wise to grab him while he is available.

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Carol Anne (Scamp) said...

"...Several years ago, before the Portland controversy involving her reported disdain for players who are gay..."

"disdain"? I think we all know that Rene's prejudice against lesbians went all the way back through her 27 years at Penn State.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Mel, as usual, is on top of the story. For an old guy :) he is till one of the best writers on women's basketball.

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Anonymous Rutgers scarlet said...

Jolette Law is the rudest, crudest, scum of the earth person I've ever met. She treats her team like dirt, constantly berates them privately and publicly, and expects them to play well for her!
From Rutgers to Jolette Law: Good Riddance.

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