Washington Takes Medical Leave of Absence

Women's head basketball coach Marian Washington announced Thursday she was taking a medical leave of absence. Coverage from today's press conference inside.

In the past week, high-profile men's college basketball coaches Rick Pitino of Louisville and Rick Majerus of Utah have been forced from the sidelines by personal health issues--Pitino may return as soon as this weekend, while Majerus is not expected back and will retire at the end of the season. Now to that list of high-profile names we can add KU head women's basketball coach Marian E. Washington, who announced Thursday that she will take a medical leave-of- absence, effective immediately.

"I have felt for some time that I needed to address some medical issues," said Washington, who is in her 31st season as head coach, which ranks her as the dean of Big 12 coaches.

"I feel positive that this is the right time to do it. I am receiving terrific support from Lew and his staff, my coaches and, most importantly, my players, so I know the time is right."

The exact nature of Washington's health concerns were not made public, but both she and athletics director Lew Perkins said her medical problems were not life-threatening. Washington met this morning with Perkins and requested a two- to three-week medical leave-of-absence, which Perkins granted.

"My most important concern as a friend, and as a colleague, is to make sure she is healthy," said Perkins, who named assistant coach and former KU All-American Lynette Woodard interim coach.

A native of Wichita, Kan., Woodard was a four-time Kodak All-American and a two-time Academic All-American from 1978-81. Woodard is in her fifth season on the staff after joining the Jayhawk coaching staff as an assistant coach in May of 1999. Woodard retired from professional basketball after nearly 20 years of playing in leagues around the globe including her final stop, the WNBA. While at KU, Woodard set numerous national and school records that she still holds today. Woodard's coaching responsibilities have included assisting with practice sessions, recruiting prospective student-athletes, scouting and game preparations.

"I am very confident that Lynette will do an outstanding job leading our women's basketball team in coach Washington's absence," Perkins said. "We will give Lynette and our student-athletes all the support they need. My biggest concern is for Marian to take care of herself. We will take care of everything else."

Washington, who later this year will be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, has led Kansas teams to 559 victories and 17 seasons of 20 or more wins--she is the 15th winningest active coachin NCAA women's Div. I. Under her guidance Kansas has captured seven conference titles and six conference tournament championships, and twice has advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Washington has coached four all-Americans--including Woodard--and three academic all-Americans. She was an assistant coach for the United States' gold-medal-winning team at the 1996 Olympics, and has been a national leader in the Black Coaches Association.

Unfortunately, KU's lack of success the past three-plus seasons have placed her under great stress.

Speculation had abounded before this season and picked up again recently regarding Washington's coaching future at Kansas. Clearly, now, her health is of utmost concern, but the fact nonetheless remains that the Jayhawks have continued to struggle this season. After winning championships and challenging for titles consistently in the Big Eight and in the first few seasons of the Big 12, the Jayhawk program has declined in the past three seasons while just to the west, K-State's has risen to national prominence. A streak of 11 consecutive seasons of 20 or more wins ended in the 2000-01 season, when KU went 12-17 overall and 5-11 in the league. Matters worsened in 2001-02 (5-25, 0-16) and 2002-03 (11-18, 3-13).

This season KU's struggles have continued--after winning seven of its first 11 games, Kansas has now lost four straight and five out of six against Big 12 competition. The Jayhawks dropped to 8-9 overall and 1-5 in league play after falling to arch-rival Missouri, 76-49, last Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. The blowout marked the first conference win for the Tigers (10-6, 1-4) and came before a crowd of 2,877 that was KU's largest home attendance of the season. The contest also featured considerable pre-game hype in the aftermath of Kansas' 55-52 win Jan. 10 in Columbia--several KU and MU players became involved in a midcourt fracas following the game, a confrontation that included fisticuffs between several players.

Ultimately the Big 12 handed out one-game suspensions to five players--Kansas starters Larisha Graves, Tamara Ransburg and reserve Kandis Bonner; and MU reserves MyEsha Perkins and Christelle N'Garsanet--for "engaging in flagrant misconduct and not showing proper restraint."

Basic Biographical Information: Marian Washington
Hometown: West Chester, Pa.
High School: Henderson H.S.
Education: West Chester State, Honorary Degree Doctorate in Public Service, 1999
Kansas, M.A., 1975
West Chester State, B.A., 1970
Coaching Experience: Kansas 1974-Present
Playing Experience: West Chester St. 1967-70

Coaching Highlights
Over 550 Victories; 1996 Olympic Gold Medal Coach; 11 NCAA Tournaments; four All-Americans; seven conference titles; six conference tournament titles; three conference Coach of the Year honors; WNBA Players Coached: Lynette Woodard, Tamecka Dixon, Angela Aycock, Lynn Pride, Charisse Sampson, Jaclyn Johnson, Nakia Sanford.

Photo courtesy: kuathletics.com

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