Tigers Still Searching For Ciampi's Replacement

Auburn has formally interviewed two candidates for the women's head basketball coaching job and a third is set for Friday.

Auburn, Ala.--The search for a replacement for women's basketball coach Joe Ciampi could continue into next week.

On Thursday, a week after Auburn hired Jeff Lebo as the new men's basketball coach, Auburn officials conducted an on-campus interview with Southwest Missouri State head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. She led her Lady Bears to a 28-4 record and the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and postseason tournament titles this past season, her second as a head coach. Her first team posted an 18-13 record and won the MVC conference tournament.

Abrahamson-Henderson has a reputation as a strong recruiter in addition to her on the floor coaching skills.

On Wednesday, ESPN women's basketball analyst and former U.S. women's basketball team Olympic coach Nell Fortner interviewed for the Auburn job. On Friday, Ciampi's top assistant, Joanie O'Brien, will interview for the position. O'Brien was head coach at UMass prior to returning to Auburn for a second term on AU's coaching staff.

Ciampi, one of the more successful coaches in Auburn history, announced his retirement following the 2003-2004 season, his 25th as head coach of the Tigers. Ciampi is the only women's basketball coach that Auburn has had in the NCAA era of women's hoops. He led the Tigers to three national runnerup finishes.

Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson

Abrahamson-Henderson played on two Big 10 championship teams at the University of Iowa, where she received her undergraduate degree in 1990. In 1991, she played for a pro team in New Zealand, helping her squad to the league finals.

She played her first two seasons of college basketball for Andy Landers at the University of Georgia before transferring to Iowa City. She began her coaching career as an assistant at Duquesne, where she earned a master's degree in 1992. Other assistant coaching stops for the Cedar Rapids, Iowa native include Iowa State, Maine and Michigan State where she was part of some of the most successful teams in those college's women's hoops history.

O'Brien coached at Auburn for Ciampi from 1986-91 before leaving for the head coaching job at UMass. She inherited a winless team and took it to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances and one NWIT bid. She was named Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year in 1995, however, she was fired after three straight losing seasons. Her record at UMass was 159-159.

The 1986 Penn State graduate and former player for the Nittany Lions was hired by Auburn last May as assistant head coach to Ciampi. She has a master's degree in education from Auburn earned in 1988. At his press conference announcing that he was retiring as coach, Ciampi said he would like to see O'Brien replace him as head coach.

Fortner, who interviewed on Wednesday and toured the AU campus, works for ESPN as a college basketball television analyst. Prior to that she spent three seasons coaching in the WNBA where she posted a 42-56 record with Indiana. She posted a 101-14 record as head coach of the U.S. Olympic Team, leading the squad to the 2000 Olympic gold medal in Australia. In her one season as a head women's basketball coach in college at Purdue, she posted a 17-11 record and tied for the Big Ten championship.

Nell Fortner

Fortner, who is originally from Jackson, Miss., is a 1982 graduate of the University of Texas. She began her coaching career as the girls basketball coach at Killeen, Tex., High School and moved into college coaching as a graduate assistant at Stephen F. Austin during the 1986-87 season while earning a master's degree in education. She was an assistant there for three seasons as SFA posted an 87-12 record and made three NCAA Tournament appearances.

Fortner moved to Louisiana Tech as an assistant to Leon Barmore where those teams posted a 123-37 record and made five trips to the NCAa Tournament.

As was the case with the men's coaching candidates, they are meeting with AU president Dr. Ed Richardson, who will make the decision on who will be hired with input from his special assistant, Hal Baird. Barbara Camp, the associate athletic director for women's sports at AU, is also helping Baird with the search.

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.

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