Gardner Steps Down As Lady'Backs Coach

DULUTH, Ga. -- Susie Gardner resigned as Arkansas' women's basketball coach on Friday, one day after the Lady Razorbacks concluded an 18-13 season with their school-record 10th consecutive loss -- 72-57 to Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Gardner, 64-54 in four seasons at Arkansas but just 16-40 in SEC regular-season play, met with UA women's athletic director Bev Lewis after both returned to Fayetteville on Friday afternoon, and informed the team of her decision in an emotional meeting.

"Arkansas was my dream-come-true job, but we just never turned the corner in the SEC," Gardner said. "I wanted to do what's best for me and the University of Arkansas, and wanted to give Bev time to digest this and find the right person to replace me."

Lewis said Gardner, 42, initiated the meeting, but Lewis said, "I agreed we needed a change."

Gardner had three years remaining on a contract calling for $248,000 per year. Her original contract was for five years, and she received a two-year rollover in May, 2005. But because Gardner was not fired, a buyout is not at issue.

"Bev and I will talk again Monday," Gardner said. "I've never resigned before, so this is new to me. But we'll come up with something that's fair for everyone."

Gardner came to Arkansas from Austin-Peay, where she had a 112-92 record in seven years, including three straight Ohio Valley Conference Tournament titles and three NCAA Tournament appearances. Gardner is now 176-146, but was never able to take Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament.

"There were some circumstances out of my control the first three years," Gardner said, referring to injuries to key players. "This year we started 15-1, but again there were issues to deal with."

Gardner didn't specify those issues, but late in the season All-SEC Freshman team guard Donica Cosby sat out a one-game suspension for violating a UA Women's Athletic Department policy.

Arkansas went 16-12 in 2003-04, Gardner's first season; then went 17-14 the next season, losing to Arkansas State in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament. In 2005-06, Arkansas was 13-15.

In the SEC under Gardner, the Lady'Backs went 5-9, 3-11, 5-9 and 3-11, finishing ninth, 11th, eighth (tied) and 10th, respectively.

Against ranked opponents, Arkansas was just 3-26 the past four years, while home attendance fell from previous levels.

Lewis said, "Susie is obviously a very good person and she's a good coach. But in the SEC you'd better be a great coach. The last two years, we just didn't finish well in the conference."

Arkansas closed with a nine-game losing streak last season, then ended 2007 with a 10-game drought.

"We're all disappointed," Lewis said. "This is always a tough situation for everyone involved."

Lewis said she would conduct a national search for a new coach, with no committee.

"I'll try to find someone with a proven record as a head coach," Lewis said. "That's always the ideal. It may take a few weeks, because some will be involved in postseason. You always have some in the back of your mind."

Lewis, who attended Gardner's meeting with the players on Friday, described it as "very quiet."

Gardner said, "I'm emotional and passionate, for good or bad. I'm pretty confident the players were not expecting this, and it was emotional for some of them, too. I left and Bev stayed in the meeting a little longer."

Lewis said Arkansas would not play in the NIT this year.

Gardner said because she is "so task-oriented, in-the-moment oriented," she did not think about her future much during the season.

"It's always about the next practice, next game, next press conference," she said. "But (Thursday) night it was raining on my window and it seemed like a perfect time for reflection -- good 'alone' time. I believe God put me at Arkansas for a reason, and I hope I've touched some lives. Right now I'm having an out-of-body experience, and haven't gotten very far in terms of what's next."

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