Finding a new coach is never an easy task for an athletic department, but when the vacancy results from an abrupt resignation by one of the most successful women’s basketball coaches in the past fifteen years, the task gets tougher.
“You always have a short list in your pocket no matter what happens,” said women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky. “Things can happen in sports that just don’t make sense and the timing is never good. People can be in accidents, you can lose people for bizarre reasons and you always have to be prepared.”
Thankfully for Plonsky, former head coach Gail Goestenkors’ decision to end her tenure as head coach of the Longhorns was brought to her attention before Goestenkors went public last week.
“Ironically the very first time [Goestenkors] talked to me was at a very critical point in our season where we just had an unbelievable game; I think it was against Oklahoma [Feb. 25],” she said.
A quick glance at the job listing on the UT Direct website for the newly open position reveals some basic, yet interesting, requirements for anyone that feels they are a suitable candidate to fill the opening. Casual applicants need not apply, however.
Obviously some sort of coaching experience at the D-I level is required, but there’s also an emphasis on player development and goals that include competing for both conference and national titles.
In a perfect world, coaches like Baylor’s Kim Mulkey, Texas A&M’s Gary Blair and even Oklahoma’s Sherri Coale would all be sitting near a phone anxiously awaiting a call from Plonsky. But with two national titles and countless Final Four appearances between the trio, a move to Texas could be considered lateral, if not a downgrade. Not to mention that the earliest any of their contracts expire is in 2015. Also, Coale receives a country club membership and 20 hours of private plane usage a year as part of her newly restricted contract — she’s not going anywhere.
No one’s exactly sure what Plonsky’s short list looks like as of now, but she may not have to look any further than the current coaching staff.
LaKale Malone has been with the Texas program since 2007 and has shown a knack for recruiting elite talent, signing five McDonald’s All-Americans in as many years. Malone may not have deep Texas ties that may be a huge boon to her recruiting prowess, but she comes from a basketball-rich background that could give her an edge over other candidates.
A four-year letter winner at Indiana from 1994-1999, Malone has also held assistant coaching positions at Wagner, Bradley and Nebraska, where she helped the Cornhuskers reach the NCAA tournament in 2007 and make three appearances in the WNIT tournament. Malone gained further postseason experience as a part of Goestenkors staff and is regarded very highly by her former staffers.
“LaKale is one of the rising young stars in the coaching profession,” Gostenkors said. “She understands the Big 12 Conference well, which is a huge asset to our program. She is very genuine and players and staff alike relate very well to her. LaKale has high energy, a great knowledge of the game, a tremendous work ethic and great passion — coaching traits which are essential for us in our quest to win championships.”
Ron Hughey hasn’t been in Austin quite as long as Malone, but he deserves to be considered as a potential replacement to Goestenkors. Like Malone, Hughey is known best for his recruiting and development of post players, a useful skill with 6-foot-7 prep standout Imani Stafford set to join the Longhorns this offseason. Hughey spent three years as an assistant at South Carolina State from 2004-2007 before accepting a job at South Carolina, where he remained for just a year. Hughey then landed at Central Florida in 2009, where Golden Knights won five straight games in the C-USA tournament to receive an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament. He then served another one-year stint as an assistant at Rutgers, helping the Scarlet Knights reach the NCAA tournament in 2010.
“Ron has a great combination of passion and coaching experience that make him a terrific fit for Texas women’s basketball,” Goestenkors said. “His enthusiasm allows him to be an excellent recruiter, and his passion comes through in everything that he says and does. He is also a tremendous post coach and he has worked with and developed several great post players.”
Malone and Hughey have rather slim resumes compared to some of the top coaches in the game right now, but both possess qualities that make them more than suitable head coach candidates.
Plonsky’s decision will come soon enough, but there is certainly talent readily available. Whoever is chosen as the next coach will have to turn things around quickly, as expectations are higher than ever on the 40 Acres.
Printed on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 as: Who will be Goestenkors' successor?