Coaching Carousel Resumes In SEC Women's Hoop

FAYETTEVILLE--Not that long ago, there were six men and six women coaching Southeastern Conference women's basketball teams.

The past couple of seasons, the ratio was 11 women, one man. Only Andy Landers, who has posted 16 seasons of 25 or more wins in his 28 years at Georgia, remains as a male coach of a women's SEC team. "I kind of like it that way," Landers joked last year. Four years ago, Gary Blair left Arkansas with a year left on an unextended contract to go to Texas A&M for $400,000 per year. He has done well there. Susie Gardner, who succeeded Blair at Arkansas, resigned on Friday with a 64-54 record. Five years ago, Jim Foster left Vanderbilt for Ohio State, where he has done even better than he did at Vandy. Melanie Balcomb picked up where Foster left off with the Commodores, and was 119-42 in five seasons, going into Sunday night's SEC Tournament championship game against LSU. The same year Blair left Arkansas, Ole Miss fired his golfing buddy, Ronnie Aldy. Carol Ross, who had stepped down at Florida the year before, has revived the Lady Rebels, going 74-49 including 21-10 this season with senior guard Armintie Price leading the way. Aldy coaches at a Mississippi community college. Three years ago, Joe Ciampi retired at Auburn with more than 600 wins. The very fashionable Nell Fortner, his successor, is 49-40 in three seasons, with a little work for CBS sprinkled in. Ciampi, financially successful, seems content with TV work now. Two years ago, Rick Moody stepped down after a distinguished career at Alabama that had slowed down at the end. Stephany Smith, his successor, is an abysmal 19-39, including 3-25 in SEC play. The Crimson Tide finished this season on a 15-game losing streak. Moody would like to coach again somewhere, probably as an assistant. Two SEC women's jobs are currently open: Florida and Arkansas. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, who covets a national title in every sport (men's and women's), hired former Purdue NCAA title-winning coach Carolyn Peck, who bombed out at 72-76 in five Gators seasons, including this year's 9-22 nadir and 2-12 SEC mark. Three of Florida's nine wins came after Peck resigned. Foley might like to have Ross back now, but early word was that he's aiming much higher, beginning with Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. If Gainesville's warm weather can't entice Auriemma, Foley may then go after Duke coach Gail Goestenkors or Maryland coach Brenda Frese. Similarly, Arkansas women's athletic director Bev Lewis is looking at Top-25 coaches. Whether Arkansas is willing to pay top dollar is a question. Gardner was making $248,000 per year. Sources say the money is there, if the will is there. Perhaps he was dreaming, but a middle-aged UA male enthusiast for women's basketball said on Friday, "There's no reason the Lady Razorbacks can't draw 10,000 fans a game." Former Lady'Back Kimberly Wilson Jenkins, who led Arkansas in scoring three times between 1993 and 1996 and was honored in Duluth, Ga., last week as an SEC Great, warmed to the prospect of a nationally competitive UA women's team. Wilson, in her seventh year as a coach at Valley Springs High, said on Saturday, "I'd love to see a coach like Andy Landers at Arkansas." Van Chancellor, a former Ole Miss women's coach who found success in the latter stages of his career as the well-paid architect of four WNBA titles with the Houston Comets (since sold), does TV now but is on the coaching prowl again. "If the right job came along, I'd take it," he said last week. More than likely, Lewis will seek someone younger than Chancellor, and with less twang. Whether it's a man or a woman shouldn't be an issue.

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