- Sep 9, 2015
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Since Whalen's announcement, several names already have been floated out by some local media as possible successors—all thus far have been White.
Some additional reporting from Charles Hallman including some black women's coaches to consider:
Something certainly changed after my conversation with Lindsay Whalen following her team’s loss Wednesday afternoon in the first game of the Big Ten WBB tournament.
When asked about the criticism she and her players have received in recent weeks, especially on social media, the fifth-year Minnesota head coach said, “Obviously we all want to win. I want to win. Fans are passionate. They want to see winning teams.
“So do I,” Whalen continued, looking forward to an off-season where her young squad can work on improving to better compete next season. “You’ve got to stay focused…and just take it one day at a time.”
Unbeknownst to both of us, or at least to this longtime Gopher beat writer, Wednesday would be our last reporter-coach chat. Less than 24 hours later came an awkwardly worded press release announcing her departure as head coach.
Whalen and Minnesota AD Mark Coyle “mutually agreed” that she should step down, he told reporters at a late afternoon press conference, a few hours after the press release came out. The news caused an unexpected buzz at the tournament.
The press conference, however, left more questions unanswered: Was Whalen fired? Technically, no, as Whalen is now a special assistant to the athletic director through April 2025.
Coyle, in an MSR interview on Friday, offered a recap of what happened between Wednesday night and Thursday morning. “We had a chance to meet around maybe 9, 9:15 in the morning [Thursday],” Coyle explained. “We both felt that for the best interest of Lindsay, the person, and the program, that she step down.
“We had a positive conversation. It was a mutual decision that we came to together,” Coyle added.
He also confirmed sources that told me that he and Whalen had been meeting regularly, as late as four weeks ago. “We just talked about some of the changing landscape in college athletics, the pressure,” he noted.
“I saw it took a toll on her,” Minnesota Associate Head Coach Shimmy Gray-Miller exclusively told the MSR on Friday. She and the rest of the staff and players learned of Whalen’s decision around 12:30 pm on Thursday.
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Photo by Charles HallmanMinnesota Associate Head Coach Shimmy Gray-Miller
Gray-Miller was hired by Whalen two years ago as an assistant and promoted the two-decades-plus veteran coach to her current role last spring. She warned both the head coach and the players to ignore the ramped-up criticism. “I kept telling her and the players not to read the comments…keep it moving,” Gray-Miller recalled. “Whether it’s good or bad, don’t read the comments. But she [Whalen] would read the comments and they ate her up,” noted the coach.
“I know what it’s like to be a head coach,” Gray-Miller continued. “Twitter wasn’t a big deal when I was a head coach. So, I know what it’s like to get roasted on message boards—questioning and challenging everything from recruiting to your coaching to your character. “I know what it’s like, but I do not know what it’s like to be Lindsay Whalen.”
Whalen was hired in 2018 during her last season as a WNBA player with zero coaching experience. Her record is 71-76 overall and 32-58 in the Big Ten. She also had to deal with player defections, injuries, and this season a very young squad.
“Coaching in the Big Ten is hard,” Rutgers HC Coquese Washington told me after she learned of Whalen stepping down. She was fired by Penn State in 2019 after 12 seasons, and three conference regular season titles. She is a two-time coach of the year winner. But lean times ultimately led to her ouster.
Photo by Charles HallmanRutgers Head Coach Coquese Washington
Washington spent the last three seasons as an associate head coach (Oklahoma, 2019-20; Notre Dame, 2020-22) before landing her second HC opportunity when Rutgers hired her last summer.
“It is hard to build the continuity and the success that you want to have,” Washington said. On Whalen, she said, “I know she worked really hard to build the program up. I’m sorry to see her step down—I heard the news. It’s like a gut punch.”
“It’s hard to win in this league,” Gray-Miller said about this year’s Gophers, one of two youngest squads in the conference, with four freshmen playing key roles. “What [Whalen] did with those young kids—we have 19-year-olds going up against 23-year-olds.”
Coyle stated that he never lost confidence in how Whalen ran the program. “Lindsay wants what’s best for Minnesota basketball,” he said. But he also acknowledged the swirling criticism around Gopher women’s hoops, stating, “Sometimes this negativity creeps in and muddles what you are trying to do. There is no doubt winning has a significant importance at our level.”
He added, “I think our program is in a good spot and we will go out and find a good coach.”
Since Whalen’s announcement, several names already have been floated out by some local media as possible successors—all thus far have been White.
Here are some Black women coaches, all with head coaching experience:
- Kamala Gissendamer, 10 years at La Roche University, has a .778 overall winning percentage.
- Zenarae Antoine, Texas State since 2011, was recently named coach of the year in her conference.
- Carol Owens, 14 seasons as Notre Dame associate HC; Northern Illinois head coach (2005-10).
- Katrina Merriweather, Memphis, has a .571 winning percentage and a .686 overall percentage at Wright State (2016-21).
- Colette Law, South Carolina assistant coach since 2017, Illinois HC (2007-12).
“I have not seen what the [media] is saying but I give you my word that we will have a very diverse pool,” promised Coyle on his coaching search.
Finally, Gray-Miller said Whalen eventually will be fine. “She’s one of the real genuine people I’ve ever met. She is almost too good for this profession. I think that’s what was hard for her.
“This profession is not what it appears to be,” she concluded. “It’s ruthless. It’s cutthroat—on the recruiting side, the administration side. Lindsay’s heart is too good for a lot of negativity that’s involved in college athletics.”