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A Modest Proposal
Seth Davis
June 10, 1996
It's time women basketball coaches got the chance to run men's college programs
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June 10, 1996

A Modest Proposal

It's time women basketball coaches got the chance to run men's college programs

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Things happened so quickly last fall at Kingsborough Community College, in Brooklyn, that no one had a chance to tell the players everything. The men's basketball coach had resigned; the players knew that. It was the first day of tryouts; they knew that, too. Then 25-year-old Kerri-Ann McTiernan, a former All-America at Johns Hopkins, walked into the gym and introduced herself to the players, explaining what she expected from them and informing them that there would be some cuts. The wheels raced inside the players' heads. She's the coach? But she's a she.

"You should have seen the looks on their faces," McTiernan says with a laugh. One small layup for womankind.

Never before had a woman been a head coach of a men's basketball team at a college in the U.S. That is a shame. As Spike Lee says in the Nike commercial in which three women go to a playground and school some men, "Basketball is basketball, athletes are athletes." Doesn't it stand to reason, too, that coaches are coaches?

Yet as the yearly ritual of basketball hirings and firings winds down, every vacancy in the men's programs is being filled by a man. There are many talented women working the sidelines around the country: Pat Summitt, for instance, has coached Tennessee to four NCAA women's titles. But except for Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey, who approached Summitt in 1994 about coaching the Volunteer men (she declined), no AD has called Summitt to talk about a men's job. Not one.

Of course, Summitt insists she has no desire to leave the job she has. Neither do Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, Roy Williams of Kansas, Jim Harrick of UCLA or Rick Majerus of Utah, yet every spring a few ADs dial these coaches' numbers anyway, figuring it couldn't hurt to ask.

Let's face it, there's not a huge surplus of qualified men for these jobs. Of the 37 men who have been hired during the offseason to coach Division I men's basketball teams, only 10 have been Division I head coaches before, and eight have never been head coaches anywhere.

What would happen if a woman with excellent credentials decided to pursue a men's job, even if it meant working at a small-time school? Consider the case of Marianne Stanley, who coached Old Dominion's women to three national championships, in 1979, '80, and '85. Stanley took over the USC women's program in 1989 but left that job in 1993 because the school wouldn't give her the same salary it was paying George Raveling, then the Trojans men's coach. ( Stanley also filed an $8 million sex-discrimination lawsuit against USC and its athletic director, which was dismissed by a federal judge in March 1995 and which Stanley is appealing.) Stanley was hired as women's co-coach at Stanford last year and in April was named the women's head coach at California. But in the last year she has also applied for 42 men's jobs, at all levels of the college game. Only two schools called her back, according to Stanley, and neither of those called twice. "And they were Division III schools," Stanley says. "Others just sent back a form letter. Most didn't even do that."

Three of the ADs who hired coaches this spring offered these reasons for not selecting women: Ed Manetta of St. John's said no women applied for the job. Bruce Corrie of Robert Morris said a couple of women applied at his school, but he prefers men to coach his men's teams and women to coach his women's teams. Jeremy Foley of Florida said approaching Summitt had never crossed his mind. "Maybe it's a matter of educating people like myself," he said.

In 1972, when Title IX was enacted, more than 90% of women's teams were coached by women. Twenty-two years later the number of women's teams had increased, but most of the new coaching jobs had gone to men; according to a study conducted at Brooklyn College, only 49.4% of women's teams were being coached by women. Coaches such as Connecticut's Geno Auriemma and Louisiana Tech's Leon Barmore have demonstrated it is possible for men to overcome gender differences and win with female players. So why couldn't women coaches succeed similarly with male players?

For answers, we are left with only nagging misconceptions: A woman can't motivate men. A woman can't recruit men. A woman can't teach a fast game that's played above the rim. Such notions not only sell female coaches short, but they shortchange male players as well. Given the close relationships many players have with their mothers, might they not be as comfortable with a female authority figure in the gym?

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