"For my first 15 or 16 years I was on a one-year contract and that drives you to do your best as a coach," Ciampi says. "With good people around me, I was fortunate enough to have enough success to be here for a long time.
"Being in one place to coach for 25 years is a dream come true, especially with my four daughters graduating from Auburn," he says. "Hopefully, Meghan will graduate from Auburn. This is our home, but not in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be in one place coaching for 25 years."
Ciampi produced a record of 568-203 at Auburn with 16 NCAA Tournament appearances, including trips to the Final Four in 1988, 1989 and 1990 where the Tigers were the runnerup for the national title each time. Last year, Auburn entered the WNIT for the first time and won that title. In his final season, Auburn finished 22-9.
His overall Division I record is 607-213 including two years at Army where he coached prior to coming to AU. Ciampi says the game has changed a great deal since he took over at AU prior to the era in which women's sports were sanctioned by the NCAA.
"The biggest change is the great improvement in the skill level of the players," he says. "When I first started we had one or two good athletes and one or two skill players. Now there is a skill player at every position. It just makes the game so much more exciting and more of a challenge to coach. Also, the size is really different with players like Louise Emeagi playing a forward position for us at 6-1 or 6-2 and Marita Payne at 6-5. The players' size and strength have gone to the next level."
Ciampi says that he plans to stay close to the AU campus in his retirement. "We are a true Auburn family," he says. "We love Auburn and we will be here for a long time."
Hal Baird, the senior associate athletic director and special assistant to interim president Dr. Ed Richardson, is conducting a search for a new men's coach and has now been given the assignment of replacing Ciampi.
"This apprenticeship is really going well," he jokes." Two at one time really presents some challenges. It is Joe's day, of course. What a great career. I think the idea of coaching 25 years in a team sport may be pretty close to being an extinct animal in this day and age.
"We will try to begin a search immediately," Baird adds. "Hopefully we can have a couple of key people involved. Again, we are moving as quickly as we can and I am sure there will be great candidates. The timing isn't all that bad with the season just ending. I would like to think it might even be a slightly quicker search than the men. We will just have to see how it goes."
Baird says Dr. Richardson will made the pick on the new coach, but adds, "I would like to make sure I make recommendations to him. I am going to have to resource a lot of people because I am not connected at all in the women's basketball network. We are going to draw on Joe and his expertise. He will be able to point us in the right direction of those who may be interested.
"These are big shoes to fill with the success of his program. His program was built on solid rock. There were no quick fixes. There was continuity. It was step by step. You could watch a Joe Ciampi team in 1988 and in 1998. The players would be different, but the model was the same. It is a model for success--defense first."
Ciampi gave a public endorsement on Thursday to his top assistant, Joanie O'Brien, who is in her second run as an AU assistant. "She is a great game coach," Ciampi says. "I would like to see it continue with her."
Ciampi's current players, family members and a large group of athletic department officials gathered for the coach's announcement. He notes that he had been considering retirement for several months, but didn't make the decision to do it until Wednesday night after returning home from Connecticut. "I need to get my batteries recharged and see what I can do," he says.
The coach says he plans to play a lot of golf and has talked to USA Basketball about doing some coaching for that group and is also interested in doing television analysis of women's basketball games.
Ciampi led the Tigers to regular season SEC titles in 1987, 1988 and 1989 and SEC Tournament titles in 1981, 1987, 1989 and 1993. His Auburn teams won 20 games during 18 seasons. He coached 36 All-SEC players and seven All-Americans plus U.S. Olympians Ruthie Bolton, Carolyn Jones and Vickie Orr.
At his press conference, an emotional Ciampi thanked all of the players who competed for the Tigers during his tenure as well as his family. Counting his time as a high school coach prior to going to Army, he has coached basketball for 36 seasons. "It is time for family," he said.