Staley pushes prospect pipeline in aim to diversify coaching

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Geno Auriemma has 17 years and 10 national titles on Dawn Staley, as Connecticut and South Carolina enter the NCAA championship game.

Auriemma, over his 37 seasons guiding the Huskies, has redefined the standards for success in the sport with his staggering 11-0 record in the final.

Staley, whose breakthrough for the trophy with the Gamecocks came in 2017, has no designs on trying to catch him.

“I won’t be here at 68,” she quipped.

Women’s college basketball has largely been shaped by legacy coaches like Auriemma, Pat Summit at Tennessee, Muffet McGraw at Notre Dame, C. Vivian Stringer at Rutgers and Tara VanDerveer at Stanford, to name some of the longest and winningest tenures.

In the continuing push to put more women, and particularly Black women, in these prominent leadership positions they’ve historically been underrepresented in, one important piece to the puzzle lies in the pipeline of prospects for these jobs when they open up.

“Maybe we’ve been so good for so long we’ve overshadowed some of the good, young coaches,” Auriemma said on Saturday, as UConn and South Carolina practiced at Target Center in preparation for the championship game.

“If I left UConn tomorrow, some 60-year-old isn’t going to get the job,” Auriemma said. “It’s going to be a young coach who is really good, who really knows what they’re doing, and is going to come in and hopefully keep us exactly where we are right now, if not better.”

That doesn’t happen without intentionality.

“We’re recruiters, so we want to find that gem in the back of a gym where nobody is and then you give them a platform to be great. We have to do that for the people in our game in order for us to advance them,” said Staley, the Hall of Famer who’s in her 14th season at South Carolina after an eight-year run at Temple.

“Somebody took a chance on me because of me being a player,” Staley said. “There were much more experienced coaches back in 2000 that could have got the Temple job.”

Staley was one of 12 Black female coaches in the 68-team NCAA Tournament this year. There were also 12 Black women among the 65 head coaches of power conference teams this season. This constitutes some progress. There is still plenty more room to grow, though.

The advent of Title IX legislation 50 years ago opened the floodgates for participation for girls and women. As some of those sports became more lucrative and visible, an unintended consequence was more males being hired for those leadership positions, said Nicole LaVoi, the director of the Tucker Research Center on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota.

“A lot of girls and women go through their whole sport career and never experience a same-identity role model, and that needs to change,” LaVoi said. “We know that men have a dual career pathway in coaching, where women do not.”

The Tucker Center issues an annual report card on women in coaching, and women’s basketball got a B grade with 64.3% female coaches at NCAA Division I schools for the 2020-21 school year. The total of female coaches was 42.7% for all women’s sports.

“We want someone that looks like us and we want someone that knows what we’re thinking,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I just think it’s really important for players to see that and for women to have those opportunities.”

Minnesota Lynx general manager and head coach Cheryl Reeve, who’s also currently the head coach of the U.S. national team, made a personal vow about two years ago to only hire female assistants for her WNBA club. The impetus for her decision stemmed from two male former members of her staff, James Wade and Walt Hopkins, getting head coaching jobs with other teams in the league.

Reeve voiced her concern that Hopkins was hired by the New York Liberty at age 34, after three years as a Lynx assistant.

“It’s not his fault, but Walt Hopkins probably had the lightest resume of any WNBA coach hired,” Reeve said. “That’s saying something because we’ve had some really light resumes of white men, or men in general, who’ve had an opportunity to coach in our league. That was my moment where I’m going, ‘OK, I’m part of the problem here.’”

Reeve lauded the SEC, where Staley is one of five Black women among the conference’s 14 head coaches. Last season, though, there were seven.

“The five of us, we talk about it. We lift each other up. We’ve got a group thread, and when anybody gets a big win, we’re texting, because we know that if we don’t — if we aren’t successful — we go back,” Staley said. “We go back down — got to wait another 10 years to get another go at it.”

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More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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