Fortner Hired To Replace Ciampi As AU Coach

Nell Fortner will be just the second AU women's basketball coach since the NCAA began sponsoring the sport.

Auburn, Ala.--Former U.S. Olympic team head coach and WNBA head coach Nell Fortner will replace retiring Auburn Joe Ciampi.

Fortner, one of four candidates interviewed for the position, will be announced as Auburn's new women's basketball coach on Thursday at a 2:30 p.m. press conference.

Nell Fortner

Other candidates interviewed for the position were Ciampi's top assistant and former UMass head coach, Joanie O'Brien, as well as Southwest Missouri State head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson and Old Dominion head coach Wendy Larry.

Fortner was head coach in 1997 at Purdue after serving as an assistant coach at two highly regarded women's programs where she coached for Gary Blair at Stephen F. Austin and Leon Barmore at Louisiana Tech. SFA was 87-12 during her time there as coach and Louisiana Tech was 123-37 and finished as the 1994 NCAA runnerup.

She led the 2000 U.S. Olympic team to the gold medal and one of the players she coached on that team was Auburn graduate Ruthie Bolton-Holyfield. Fortner was an assistant coach for two years on the 1996 U.S. National Team that won an Olympic gold medal.

At Purdue she was 17-11, including a 12-4 mark in the Big 10, as the Boilermakers tied for the conference title. That is her only season as a collegiate head coach.

Fortner is currently a women's college basketball analyst after working three years as head coach and general manager of the expansion Indiana team in the WNBA. She has worked with ESPN since 2001.

Ciampi, one of the more successful coaches in Auburn history, announced his retirement following the 2003-2004 season. He 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.

Ciampi led the Tigers to regular season SEC titles in 1987, 1988 and 1989 and SEC Tournament titles in 1981, 1987, 1990 and 1997. 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.

"I am extremely excited about the opportunity to coach at Auburn," says Fortner. "I thank the Auburn family for entrusting me with their program. Joe (Ciampi) had a tremendous career at Auburn and I am honored to follow in his footsteps. I can't wait to get started."

AU interim president, Dr. Ed Richardson, made the decision on the new coach and he says, "Auburn's selection of Nell Fortner to lead our women's basketball program indicates the university's ongoing commitment to both winning basketball and excellence in the classroom. Coach Fortner has compiled an impressive record at both the collegiate and Olympic levels. She has a thorough understanding of the game and the unique needs of student athletes. On behalf of all of our fans, I am pleased to welcome her to Auburn."

Fortner's record as a WNBA head coach was 42-56 with the Indiana Fever.

A native of Jackson, Miss., Fortner played at the University of Texas from 1978-81 and her teams there posted a 127-26 mark.

She took over at coach of the U.S. Women's National Team on April, 1, 1997 and held that position through the Sydney Olympics. The U.S. squad, in addition to winning the Olympic gold medal, posted a record of 101-14.

Joanie O'Brien

Ciampi's choice for the job, 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, a 1982 University of Texas graduate, began her coaching career at Killen, Tex., High and moved into the college ranks as a graduate assistant at Stephen F. Austin where she earned a master's degree in education.

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