Jody Conradt

Six years after leaving her post as recruiting coordinator at Texas, Karen Aston has rejoined the Longhorns, this time as their head coach.

Aston, who is just the fourth head coach in program history, was introduced in a press conference at the Denton A. Cooley Pavilion on Tuesday morning. Although the full details of the contract have yet to be released, it will be a five-year agreement that includes extension language.

“I’m thrilled to be back,” Aston said. “It’s great to be back at Texas and have the opportunity to coach these young women.”

Aston served under Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame head coach Jody Conradt as an assistant at Texas from 1998-2006. During their eight years together, the two led the Longhorns to seven tournament appearances, including a Final Four appearance in 2003.

“Aside from my high school coach, the biggest influence in my life as a basketball coach has been Jody Conradt,” Aston said. “She made a tremendous difference in my life. I didn’t know that until I left Texas. There is nobody that bleeds orange like she does. If I can do anything even close to what Jody did as far as building tradition here at Texas, then I’ll do my job well.”

During her first stint with the Longhorns and throughout her coaching career, Aston has been known for her energetic coaching style and her relentlessness on the recruiting trail.

Over the course of her time as recruiting coordinator at Texas, the Longhorns brought in several high school McDonald’s All-Americans, including Tiffany Jackson and Erika Arriaran, both of whom were ranked first in the country in their respective recruiting classes.

Women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky and the Texas fan base will both be expecting more of the same this time around.

Aston knows the importance of recruiting in the Big 12 and stressed the need for the Longhorns to reestablish themselves as a recruiting power in the state of Texas.

“I’m excited about the opportunity for me and for Texas to reconnect,” Aston said. “But I will say that it’s amazing once you’ve been in Texas and you’ve developed the relationships, the roots are here. High school coaches, they don’t leave Texas. So they’re still there. I’m still very connected with everyone across the state.”

Since leaving the Longhorns, Aston has coached in the state of Texas as an assistant under Kim Mulkey at Baylor in 2006-2007 and as the head coach at North Texas last season. She spent four years out of state as the head coach at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in between.

As for Aston’s energy and intensity, the players have already been impressed. Aston met with the team for the first time on Monday night and, according to Plonsky, the players were very excited about the team’s new leadership.

“They were fired up and they were cheery,” Plonsky said. “I was not in the players’ meeting last night but I introduced her to them. I sat in the coaches’ office next door, and when they came out, the kids were amazingly connected.”

Longhorns head women’s basketball coach Gail Goestenkors resigned Monday after five seasons at Texas, going 102-64 during her tenure.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

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

It’s been quite some time since Texas last enjoyed any sort of postseason success. After Gail Goestenkors took over for the legendary Jody Conradt back in 2007, the program has yet to make it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Longhorns have failed to finish any better than fourth in the Big 12 under Goestenkors, and the team’s high win mark under Coach G sits at 22. In a little over four seasons at the helm, Goestenkors’ overall Big 12 record is 43-37 (.538), compared to Conradt’s 284-86 (.761).

Maybe the Texas faithful were spoiled during Conradt’s time in Austin. After all, she did devote 30-plus years to the program, and is the reason it is one of the best in the nation. It’s not to say that Goestenkors is chopped liver, by any means. With expectations at an all-time high after Conradt’s departure, someone was going to feel the heat at some point or another.

Whatever the case may be, the point is that the Longhorns are missing something at the top. These Longhorns are among the nation’s top defensive teams, and have loads of experience at multiple positions. Between elite post players like Cokie Reed and Ashley Gayle and superb guard play as of late from Yvonne Anderson, this is a solid squad. There’s no reason this team can’t make it to the NCAA Tournament, and even win a game or two.

You may not know it yet, but Chassidy Fussell is a special player. Much like Baylor’s Brittney Griner, she just gets it. Fussell isn’t nearly as advanced physically like Griner, but the two share a similar mindset while on the court. Either one can drop 30 points at will, although Fussell is a far better 3-point shooter than Griner. If she stays healthy, I can say without a doubt that within the next two years of her remaining eligibility Fussell will emerge as a National Player of the Year candidate.

It seems like Goestenkors has grasped how to use Fussell effectively, whether that’s screening to get her open, or having her create her own shots. It’s really up to Fussell most of the time to shoulder to scoring load, especially when Reed and Gayle aren’t producing underneath the basket. In the end, Fussell may be the answer to Goestenkors’ postseason woes at Texas. Think of it this way — Fussell is still learning how to drive and Goestenkors is in the passenger’s seat making sure she stays on the road.

After a tough home loss to Baylor this past weekend, Texas is now 1-3 in conference play. With 14 more games slated, there’s still plenty of time for the Longhorns to make a run at postseason play, but they’ll need more consistent effort from players not named Fussell, Reed and Anderson.