When longtime Old Dominion women’s basketball coach Wendy Larry resigned on Tuesday, it didn’t come as a surprise. Athletics director Wood Selig announced several weeks ago that he was not going to extend her contract beyond the 2011-12 season.
Larry, who was an assistant on the great Old Dominion AIAW national championship teams that featured Nancy Lieberman and Anne Donovan in 1979 and 1980, got the Lady Monarchs to the Final Four in 1997 and as far as the Elite Eight in 2002.
But that’s a lifetime ago in the rapidly pressurizing world of big-time women’s college basketball. Even at Old Dominion, which had dominated the Colonial Athletic Association until recently, the wishes of a new AD have resulted in a rather quick and contentious change at the top. After 24 mostly winning seasons as head coach, Larry will see out that last year in a fundraising role.
Selig, who replaced the venerable Jim Jarrett, one of the most passionate ADs for women’s college basketball shortly after the advent of the AIAW era and after it was ushered into the NCAA age, is operating in a very different time. He stepped down from his position on the NCAA women’s basketball committee last year to take the Old Dominion job, which came with a new football program that Jarrett had created in one of the most competitive mid-major conferences in the country.
Larry’s departure wasn’t a pretty one, and is the latest casualty in a busy spring clearance of coaches whose careers have dated back to AIAW times. Debbie Ryan of Virginia and Naismith Hall of Famer Van Chancellor at LSU also were edged out, also unwillingly but a little more gracefully, replaced by younger coaches with fresh recruiting success.
The notables remaining from that pre-NCAA era can essentially be counted on less than both hands: Pat Summitt of Tennessee, Vivian Stringer of Rutgers, Tara VanDerveer of Stanford, Andy Landers of Georgia, Sylvia Hatchell of North Carolina, Jim Foster of Ohio State and Gary Blair of Texas A & M, who last month, at the age of 65, became the oldest coach to win an NCAA title.
In the last decade and a half in particular, the stakes in major women’s college basketball have grown dramatically higher. More schools are getting ambitious about the sport, which has been a good thing, although parity at the very top levels of the game remains elusive. With those ambitions have come bigger salaries – in some cases, astounding pay checks – along with more intense pressure to win. That in turn has ratcheted up a recruiting scene that doesn’t have as deep a talent pool as the men’s game.
And the usual suspects are again scoring big in the current chase for the best high school stars: UConn, Tennessee, Stanford, Duke, etc. Texas, which is desperately trying to elbow its way back into the national picture, had its heart broken last week when a coveted in-state recruit reneged on a verbal commitment and after considering UConn, said she would play at A & M.
What have you won for me lately?
The realities of these greater demands have become enough of a concern that for the last few years, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association has scheduled roundtable discussions at its Final Four convention to address issues of