When Gail Goestenkors left Duke after 15 seasons as head coach, she brought with her a record of winning, something the Longhorn program had become quite fond of, as well as the guidance of all-time great Jody Conradt.
However, after five years and a 102-64 overall record, it became clear that Goestenkors wasn’t going to have an easy time restoring the dominance once associated with Texas women’s basketball.
Goestenkors held a press conference to announce her indefinite retirement from coaching Monday, bringing an end to her short-lived tenure in Austin. There had been some speculation recently as to whether or not Goestenkors would be fired, or even have the remainder of her contract bought out, but this move comes as a personal choice by Goestenkors.
“It’s been just an incredible journey here and really over my career,” Goestenkors said. “I’ve been a head coach now for 20 years and 27 total, so it’s been a wonderful, incredible journey.”
It was just a week ago that women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky stood by Goestenkors, saying she would indeed remain coach of the Longhorns for the remaining two years of her seven-year, $8.75 million contract.
“My heart’s telling me it’s time to take a break, and that’s what I’m going to do,” Goestenkors said. “I never came here for the money. People always talk about making a million dollars. I was offered a million dollars to stay at Duke.”
Even after Goestenkors made her intentions clear that she would resign at year’s end, Plonsky insisted that she stay on as head coach, giving Goestenkors the full support of the athletic department.
“She’s tried to talk me out of it,” Goestenkors said. “I feel like it’s time for me to step away and bring in some new leadership and help this program really to go where I know it can go.”
It was widely thought that Goestenkors would carry over her excellent recruiting and be able to compete with the nation’s top teams just as her teams did at Duke. Injuries are partly to blame for the overall lack of production, but teams like Baylor and Texas A&M have also built solid programs that have consistently challenged the Longhorns. Under Goestenkors, the Longhorns struggled to compete with top teams and suffered in March as a result.
“There is no easy game in women’s basketball,” Plonsky said. “We are competing in the most competitive league in the country. You have to have great players, you have to stay healthy and you have to play well. That is a lot to ask and it is true in every Big 12 sport. This place is not for the faint of heart.”
Interestingly enough, in her first five years with the Blue Devils (‘92-’97) she recorded a 95-53 (.642) record and took her team to the NCAA Tournament three times, exiting in the second round each of those three years — all this at a small private school where just making the tournament at that time was something to be proud of.
But if you stop there you miss some important information.
In her sixth season at Duke in 1996, Goestenkors won the ACC, led the Blue Devils to the Elite Eight appearance and took her team to the Sweet Sixteen each of the next nine years. Certainly an impressive resume and no doubt one of the reasons she was hired as Conradt’s heir to the throne at Texas.
Things may not have gone as Goestenkors had planned this year, but that comes with the territory. Next year was, and is shaping up to be an interesting year for women’s basketball. Texas will have a grand total of zero seniors, a bevy of sophomores who have yet to record any meaningful playing time, and a pair of elite recruits.
Goestenkors’ record at Texas after five full seasons will end, at least for now, at 102-64 (.614), with five NCAA Tournament appearances. It has been well documented that the Longhorns made it past the first round just once under Goestenkors, but it is worth noting that she has taken a team to the tournament every year since 1994.
“I’m not leaving Austin,” Goestnekors said. “But I’m leaving basketball and I think that’s an important distinction,”
Goestenkors’ last official day on the job will be Friday. After that the search for her replacement will begin.
It seemed as if Goestenkors was just getting started, but the toll of rebuilding finally proved to be too much for one of the game’s best coaches.
Printed on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 as: Goestenkors ends underachieving five-year stint