Joni Taylor leaves Georgia to replace Blair at Texas A&M

Georgia women’s basketball coach Joni Taylor is leaving for Southeastern Conference rival Texas A&M.

The Lady Bulldogs announced Wednesday that Taylor has taken the job with the Aggies after seven years at Georgia.

Taylor replaces Gary Blair, who retired after nearly two decades as the Aggies coach and led them to the national title in 2011.

Taylor compiled a 140-75 overall record at Georgia, including a 62-48 mark in the SEC. She guided the Lady Bulldogs to four appearances in the NCAA Tournament but never advanced past the second round.

Texas A&M slumped to 14-15 in Blair’s final season, including a 4-12 record in conference play, and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005.

But Taylor stressed the program’s historical excellence under Blair, which included eight runs to at least the Sweet 16.

“You are talking about a program that is rich with tradition and an institution that leads not only in the SEC, but in the country,” Taylor said in a statement released by Texas A&M. “I am excited to get there and meet the team and immerse myself and our family into Aggieland.”

The 43-year-old Taylor said she has known Blair since she was a player at Alabama and he was coaching at Arkansas, where he spent 10 seasons before moving to Texas A&M in 2003.

“The way he led young women on and off the court and was a steward of our game is something I have always admired,” she said. “He created a national championship program during his 19 years at A&M — to be able to continue that legacy is an honor.”

This is the second time Taylor has succeeded a longtime coach.

She landed her first head coaching job in 2015 after the retirement of Andy Landers, who built Georgia into a national powerhouse over a 36-year career.

The Lady Bulldogs made 31 NCAA appearances under Landers, including five Final Fours and two runs to the national championship game. They lost both times, leaving the only blemish on Landers’ record.

The program slipped a bit in Landers’ final years before he handed off the job to Taylor, who worked on his staff.

Taylor had some promising seasons but failed to get the Lady Bulldogs back to the levels they reached under Landers.

“I want to personally thank Joni for being a great ambassador at the University of Georgia,” athletic director Josh Brooks said. “Her impact left a lasting impression on this program.”

Brooks said he’s already started the search for a new coach, who will be just the third person to hold the post in 44 seasons.

He already went through a search for a new men’s coach, hiring Florida’s Mike White to take over the Bulldogs after the firing of Tom Crean.

“We are committed to competing for championships and postseason success in each of our 21 sports,” Brooks said. “I am confident we will find the best person to help us achieve that mission and build on the great tradition of Georgia Lady Bulldog basketball.”

Taylor said she was drawn to Texas A&M largely because of the commitment of athletic director Ross Bjork to women’s sports.

“There are a lot of great coaches in this business,” Taylor said. “For them to target me and say that I am the one they want to be the leader of this great program is incredibly humbling.”

Bjork said he wanted someone who would build on the success of Blair’s tenure.

“It was so important that we found the right leader and person who would exemplify these same qualities and someone who understood what being an Aggie is all about,” Bjork said. “The more we got to know Coach Taylor, it became crystal clear that she is the right coach to lead our program into this new era of Aggie basketball.”

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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