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, May 18, 2011

Guru Report: Wendy Larry Steps Down At Old Dominion

(Guru’s Note: There is a WNBA blog under this from Connecticut Sun Media Day on Monday. If you are reading this in melgreenberg.com, just hit the mel’s blog tab on the left to get to blogspot and the entire group.)

By Mel Greenberg

The NCAA women’s basketball offseason coaching shuffle ramped up again Tuesday afternoon with the announcement that veteran Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry was stepping down and taking another job at the Norfolk, Va., school.

Larry will assist the Office of Institutional Advancement at ODU for athletic fund raising projects, and Alumni events, according to the official release by the school’s athletic department.

The move by the 56-year-old Larry, a former player for the Lady Monarchs, adds to wild revolving door among Division I schools in Virginia that has been swinging since the end of the season, all not without controversy.

Larry’s departure comes after a recent public scrum with first-year Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig, who would not go to the Monarchs board to support a contract extension requested by Larry.

One of the disputes is Selig’s claim that next season would have been the last year of Larry’s current contract, though she claimed she had two years remaining under the deal that was negotiated with former longtime athletic director Jim Jarrett.

Though Old Dominion has missed the NCAAs the last three seasons, one of Larry’s incoming recruits – Kaneisha Atwater, a guard from Florida (Palm Beach County) – was just named a Parade High School All-American, the first for the program since Allie Spence in 1999.

The school said a nationwide search would begin immediately, which now makes two openings in Division I along with the one at UC Santa Barbara to replace Lindsay Gottlieb, who returned to California replacing Joanne Boyle, who left the Golden Bears for Virginia.

The Gauchos on the West Coast late Tuesday night denied a report earlier in the day that Westmont College coach Kirsten Moore had been offered and accepted the UCSB job. Apparently Rutgers associate head coach Carlene Mitchell was also on campus recently for an interview.

Meanwhile, Boyle’s return to the state where she had previously coached Richmond before heading to the West Coast was part of a series of changes at Division I schools in Virginia.

Her arrival marked the replacement of Hall of Famer Debbie Ryan, a longtime coach of the Cavaliers who will remain at the university but whose exit did not appear to be totally voluntary on Ryan’s behalf.

Unlike some, but not all, other departures raising eyebrows over the past year of notables in both the WNBA and in the NCAA, Larry was at least given a 21-gun salute by ODU in the school’s press release.

She was one of the first to women to receive an athletic scholarship at ODU, was an assistant to Hall of Famer Marianne Stanley with the Lady Monarchs and later returned to replace Stanley in 1987 and remain at the helm through this past season.

Larry’s record is 608-234 overall and was 559-203 in 24 seasons at her alma mater, including a string of 17 straight Colonial Athletic Association titles after ODU joined the conference – a run that was snapped in the CAA semifinals by Drexel in 2009.

This past season the Lady Monarchs were 20-11 overall and 14-4 and a second-place tie with N.C.-Wilmington during the regular season.

“When people sit down and actually read over Wendy’s accomplishments, they will truly appreciate what she did,” said James Madison coach Kenny Brooks, who’s team beat ODU for last year’s CAA crown and Delaware this past season.

“To win those titles 17 straight times is truly remarkable,” Brooks added.

Several more of Larry’s coaching colleagues couldn’t be reached after the official announcement but updates will occur when comments are made.

Under her guidance, ODU appeared in 20 NCAA tournaments, highlighted by an upset of championship-favorite Stanford in the 1997 national semifinals before falling to Tennessee in the title game.

That team featured one of ODU’s all-time women’s players in future WNBA All-Star Ticha Penicheiro.

Larry, who paced the sidelines with a towel over either of her shoulders, has also served as president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and been a voter in both the Associated Press women’s poll when coaches were on the voting panel and also with the USA Today/ESPN poll.

This past season, in which ODU was given its earliest CAA ouster ever when Delaware won in the quarterfinals, Larry became the 20th all-time coach to reach 600 victories, right behind Philadelphia University’s Tom Shirley at the Division II school.

Villanova’s Harry Perretta will begin next season two wins away at 598, all with the Wildcats.

“Wendy and Lady Monarch basketball are synonymous,” Selig said in the statement. “Wendy has been a consistent thread, as a student-athlete and coach, throughout much of our program’s national success. So many people I have met associate ODU with our highly successful women’s basketball program. We can all thank Wendy for the role she has played in helping with the national branding of our women’s basketball program.”

Selig was previously athletic director at Western Kentucky and served on the NCAA women’s basketball tournament committee. He also has worked in Virginia’s athletic department.

Larry, who has loved residing at her home in nearby Virginia Beach when not involved with her sport, is a native of Bloomingdale, N.J.

It’s conceivable she could rejoin the coaching ranks elsewhere after next season.

“I was truly blessed to have coached hundreds of student-athletes who wore the Lady Monarch uniform with pride during my tenure at ODU,” Larry said in a statement in the school’s announcement. “I am forever grateful that the late President Marchello and Dr. Jim Jarrett took a chance on me and brought me home.”

As for her replacement, if Old Dominion stays in-house, assistant Nikita Lowry Dawkins, a former Ohio State star, would be a leading candidate.

Hall of Famer and fabled former Lady Monarch all-American Nancy Lieberman, who made more history as a woman coaching the Texas Legends near Dallas in the men’s NBA Development League, is always after a new challenge and might have interest.

Selig has been appreciative when at Western Kentucky of the work by Hilltoppers coach Mary Taylor Cowles, whom he hired at her alma mater by promoting her from associate head coach.

Former assistant Karen Barefoot had success at Elon this past season.

Besides the University of Virginia, there have been other changes throughout the state – Virginia Tech let go Beth Dunkenberger, a move widely expected but the Hokies surprised with her replacement tapping former Boston U. men’s coach Dennis Wolff from the men’s side at the school.

Beth Cunningham stayed put at Virginia Commonwealth but her name was mentioned as a potential candidate during the searches at Atlantic 10 school Charlotte and Xavier.

-- Mel

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