For love of the game
In retiring, Conradt puts her team, sport first again
Posted: Tuesday March 13, 2007 4:15PM; Updated: Tuesday March 13, 2007 5:09PM
I was in college when I first met Jody Conradt. I was new to the whole sports writing thing, having spent just one semester on the staff of the Texas student newspaper. I had no idea what path my writing would take.
But my season covering Conradt's team changed that.
It wasn't the best of Texas teams. No, the 1995-96 season turned out to be Conradt's first losing season at Texas. Just as she did for much of this campaign, in which the Longhorns failed to make the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year, Conradt took the brunt of the fans' disappointment.
And she took it well.
A nervous newcomer, I was hesitant to ask Conradt if she considered retirement. Sensing my hesitation, she quickly put my fears to rest with a big smile and an understanding answer. Regardless of the situation, Conradt has always understood what it took to build, not only a program, but also a sport.
That meant being accessible to the media, whether it was a student reporter or a major paper. Maybe that's why so many who covered her teams as students went on to cover the sport as professionals.
Conradt also understood that building the program meant making women's basketball a priority. In a state where football ruled -- and still does -- Texas became one of the first schools to do that.
As a result, she is one of the most influential coaches in the country. She ends her 38-year career with a 900-306 record and trails only Tennessee's Pat Summitt (941) in victories. And the Lady Longhorns, as they were then known, became a beloved team in Texas and a national power. Texas was the first women's basketball team to win a national championship with a perfect record, going 34-0 in 1986.
"She's been such an icon for women's basketball," said former Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp, another icon who retired last season. "It's hard to imagine the game without her in it. A lot of programs patterned themselves after Texas. She's been a great role model for a lot of folks across the country. You can't talk enough about her importance to the game."
Those contributions ultimately led to Conradt's decision to announce her retirement on Monday, just minutes after the NCAA tournament announcement.
It's a tribute to the success of Conradt's program, and that of Tennessee, that other programs have made bigger commitments to women's hoops. Now, the competition is tougher and the Longhorns have been victims of their own success. They haven't won a title since '86, and, though they reached the Final Four in 2003, they lost in the semifinals to Connecticut. Despite bringing in several of the nation's top recruiting classes, Texas hasn't made it back.
The days are long gone when Texas nabbed all of the state's top talent. Thanks to Conradt, players have more opportunities to play at a high level. In the 1990s, Texas Tech joined the Longhorns on the national scene. More recently, Baylor, Texas A&M and TCU have emerged. All three are in this year's tournament.
So, with her team out once again, Conradt understood what she needed to do. She made the decision she thought was best for her program and her sport.