Had a long chat with former Buffs coach Ceal Barry on the decision to hire her former player, Linda Lappe, as Colorado’s new head coach. Barry made a lot of positive points about Lappe. But Barry also was realistic about how some people will react to such a youthful coach _ she is 30 _ getting her first shot at Division I after not being a head coach at that level before. Barry’s sense of optimism, though, was very strong.
“I’ve lived here 27 years, and I sent an e-mail out to a large group of people I know about a new season-ticket offer,” Barry said. “And immediately all these people said, ‘I’m in.’ I’m getting all these e-mails back, and it’s because of the respect they had for Linda. The excitement of our community for this _ everybody here gets it. They get who she is and what she stands for.
“I know outside of here, people may look at this and say, ‘What are they doing?’ But they don’t know Linda. All I say is, ‘Give her a chance.’ “
Barry has been in administration at Colorado since resigning as coach in 2005, and while she’s kept an eye on the program, women’s basketball did not “report” to her in the past five seasons with Kathy McConnell-Miller as head coach. Now it will, and I don’t get the sense that will be a bad thing in any way for Lappe. Barry won’t try to micromanage what Lappe does, but will be a strong advocate for her.
Barry doesn’t seem to me that she secretly still longs to be coaching. I think she still loves observing the game and analyzing it, but is glad to be rid of all the exhausting and often frustrating toil of recruiting. One thing that Barry was very weary of by the conclusion of her coaching career was the mean-spiritedness of recruiting and the lousy things coaches would say about other coaches – even though, technically, they are not supposed to do that.
She knows there will be things said about Lappe – that’s she’s too young, too inexperienced, in over her head, etc. But Lappe just needs to focus on the things that she always has: hard work, pride in her job, making sure she’s got good people around her.
As I said in an earlier post, my initial reaction to Lappe was not positive. I thought, “Is she really ready now? Is it time yet?” Then the more I thought about it, especially after considering what Barry had to say, I realized that even if the timing wasn’t perfect, Lappe has some qualities that can’t be replicated by many other candidates.
Not the least of which is that when she tells her team, “This is what it’s going to be like when we play at Iowa State and there are 11,000-plus people there,” she is speaking from first-hand experience of being on the floor in the very situations that her players will be in.
Barry told Lappe to take her time in assembling a staff that would complement the strengths she already has.
“Linda’s very wise beyond her years,” Barry said. “When I started coaching here in 1983 – you can’t even compare that to now; it’s a totally different era in women’s basketball. But Linda played in this era. She’s someone who has a lot of substance; we’re excited about what kind of person she is. And I know she can coach.”
Ultimately, like with everything else, time will tell. The thing is, the McConnell-Miller hire never really felt that solid. She wasn’t Colorado’s first choice in ’05; Kevin Borseth was. He took the job, then just before he was to be announced, he balked, realizing that it would be too difficult on his family. So he stayed at Wisconsin-Green Bay, then took over at Michigan.
That decision by Borseth made sense to me; I could see why he was lured to Colorado, but ultimately his family and extended family was a bigger priority in regard to his overall quality of life. But it put Colorado in a bind to have to re-open the coaching search, and then I think it all had this “consolation-prize” feeling to it.
And that’s really a shame. Boulder is a beautiful place to live and go to school, Denver is nearby, you get to play in the Big 12 conference and fans in the past have proven they will support the team. Most of them are not going to come out for unending mediocrity and worse, nor should they. But I would bet that the Buffs women’s hoops fans who got tired of watching a team going nowhere the past five years might be willing to be patient with Lappe for a couple of seasons if they see tangible progress.
The Women’s Final Four is in Denver in 2012, and the ideal scenario is for the Buffs to at least get into the NCAA tournament field that year.
Colorado hasn’t been to the tournament since 2004, and getting there in the next couple of years will be a big task. But that’s where Lappe can trumpet her youth as an asset, because of the energy it’s going to take to lift Colorado back to where it used to be. And let’s not forget, that was a pretty good place. The Buffs were in the Elite Eight in 2002, so it’s not like it was a lifetime ago. Lappe was playing for the Buffs then.
Now, will there still be a lot of questions about Lappe? Of course. The last head coach to come to the Big 12 level out of Division II without having been a head coach at Division I was Missouri’s Cindy Stein. She did have her successes in her 12 seasons at Mizzou, but the program seemed almost lifeless by the end of her stay. Had economics been different, I think Stein would have been gone before this year. (Julie Goodenough came to Oklahoma State out of Division III, by the way, in 2002 and that was pretty much a disaster that ended, mercifully, after three seasons.)
Now, as for the other new Big 12 North coach … as I mentioned in the earlier post, I will have more to write about Missouri’s Robin Pingeton. When I wrote the other day I was taking deep breaths as I was sorting out thoughts on the two hires, that really was much more in regard to Pingeton than Lappe.
With Lappe, the issues are very obvious – youth, inexperience – but those are things she could make non-issues pretty quickly as she gets to work in her new position. Or they could be issues that prove to be her undoing there. We’ll have to wait and see.
However, with Pingeton, out of Illinois State, experience as a Division I head coach is not an issue. The move from the Missouri Valley to the Big 12 has been done. But Connie Yori – Creighton to Nebraska – has spoken very clearly on the difficulty of it. She had to establish a new infrastructure, if you will, with the Huskers women’s basketball program, and it took time.
In fact, to be frank, Nebraska – in spite of just having its best-ever season – still needs to upgrade on talent in order to be a permanent player in the Big 12 and the national scene. So Yori, who now has eight seasons of experience in Lincoln, is still in construction – not maintenance _ mode at Nebraska.
Pingeton has brought her staff from Illinois State – where they were together a long time – and so there is a lot of continuity. Which can be a very positive thing for a program. That said, Pingeton will have to recruit at a higher level than she did at Illinois State in order to seriously compete in the Big 12.
All of those would be normal concerns for any coach. But Pingeton created more concerns with some of her press conference statements, in which she introduced her religion and put a big emphasis on all her assistants being married with children.
“I’m a Christian who happens to be a coach,” Pingeton said early in her press conference last Thursday. Later, she pointed out, “I’m very blessed to have my staff here. This is something very unique for Division I women’s basketball. A staff where the entire staff is married with kids. Family is important to us. And we live it every day. A lot of people talk about that family environment. We’re living it every day as a staff.”
And, yes, those comments concerned me. But I want to talk to Pingeton about them. I’ve only spoken to her in person a couple of times, and I would bet she doesn’t remember either occasion because they were after games and only for brief comments. I wasn’t at her press conference at Mizzou because I was still in Texas after the the Final Four.
I also realized on this blog, I probably don’t need to post a very long and detailed entry about exactly why these comments concerned me. Most folks who read this blog are very astute about these issues, so I can be a bit more brief.
Missouri is a public university welcoming to people regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. It is the legal and moral responsibility of any employee of the university to maintain that welcoming atmosphere regardless of his or her own personal religious convictions. If a coach feels it necessary to publicly state her religious views, she should just as publicly and emphatically state that her team is open and welcoming to players no matter their religious views. And I hope that’s something Pingeton will rectify.
And as for stressing marriage and children and talking about that being “unique” in women’s basketball … it would take rather extreme naivete for a coach to be unaware those statements could be taken as “code” that we don’t need MIT brainiacs to crack. And I don’t think Pingeton is naive.
Maybe she needed a different choice of words … and I’m not just talking about the fact that grammatically, you’re not supposed to use any qualifiers with “unique.” Hey, I break that rule myself. But “unique” means one of its kind, and the reality is that’s not even true in the Big 12 conference Pingeton and her staff are joining. Her mentor, Bill Fennelly at Iowa State, and all of his assistants are married with children.
It’s absurd that it’s even a topic, frankly. If being married with kids was some kind of absolute indicator of coaching-success potential, then the outgoing staff at Colorado wouldn’t be out of work in Boulder, you know? McConnell-Miller was married with three kids, her assistant and brother Tom and his wife had six children, another assistant, Patrick Harrington, and his wife had three kids.
Bottom line, I’ve covered women’s basketball for 26 years. I couldn’t care less if a coach is straight, gay, male, female, has children or doesn’t have them. I care if coaches are good people who treat student-athletes with respect and are committed to their well-being and growth. Having the qualities to nurture and discipline young people is not linked to any certain formula involving a coach’s gender, sexual orientation or marital/parental status.
So I do think that Pingeton had some missteps in that press conference that she needs to be aware of. But I also believe she shouldn’t be judged on one press conference. It’s only fair she gets a chance to address those things and expand more on what she feels she brings to this job at Missouri. Because it is hers now, and she’s got a lot of hard work in front of her. This is a very important hire for Missouri, which is hoping to bring new life to this program.