We don't know if Pam DeCosta is the best person for the head coaching job because we haven't followed the Spartan women's program closely (not having witnessed a single game) so the ability for us to offer an informed opinion on the subject is very limited. We understand some may interpret this as an avoidance of the subject but we prefer to provide background and commentary on matters with which we have much more of an acquaintance.
What we do know is that DeCosta inherited a roster close to devoid of D-1A talent, size, and experience. There was no Lamisha Augustine or Amber Jackson (more on her later) and definitely no Cricket Williams – Richard's best players in her seven season tenure – to carry the squad.
The SJSU women's basketball program DeCosta took over was in a state of disarray, the worst in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and appeared in worse shape, if such a thing is possible, than the substandard state of Spartan men's basketball when the last head coaching change was made in that program.
One of the problems was that Coach Richard's recruiting nosedived rather than building upon some solid W-L records she and her teams earned. Here's her seasonal record while at SJSU:
*Greg Lockridge and Derrick Allen as interim head coaches
17-11 is a fantastic record for SJSU women's basketball. But then the momentum in both overall and league play was halted by a setback 2002-2003 season. The following go-around, the overall record picked back up but the play in the WAC worsened. 2004-2005 produced a very good comeback with 18-12/10-8 records respectively. But the next season things went backwards until the bottom fell out in 2006-200, with star Amber Jackson's departure and ugly recriminations being tossed about.
What we also know is that on DeCosta's present coaching staff, Jodi Greve comes from Texas, Brett Studley followed DeCosta from the coaching staff at Lynn University in Florida, Megan Osmer played for DeCosta at Lynn, and Angela Gonzaga has numerous ties to Santa Clara County and Bay Area basketball circles.
Now it's not always the panacea it's cracked up to be (it wouldn't matter in, say, Idaho) but having local and regional ties is important in coaching any sport at San Jose State. That instant credibility goes a long way in recruiting circles.
We recall that DeCosta had John Langston, a longtime coach at Sacramento High, on her team a while back but he is no longer part of the staff and we have no insight regarding his departure or what he contributed. Not having a 'local' on her coaching staff appears to be a negative or at least a missing opportunity but again, we have no definitive information to provide on what, if any, recruiting circumstances have been missed as a result.
Our sense, however unprovable, is that assistant coaches with local ties and histories would be beneficial
But Coach Richard employed 15 assistants during her stay so there's certainly a precedent for continuous arrivals and departures within the Spartan women's coaching staff. However, this turnover needs to be curtailed as it indicates instability – which is a cancer to any program.
Let's look at the timeline of the final season in Richard's tenure:
Coach Richard went on medical leave in late August 2006. At her request Greg Lockridge was appointed as interim head coach, someone who had assisted previously in 2002-2003, then left and returned. At that point her overall record was 93-106 overall, 51-67 in WAC games – and highlighted with three winning seasons in her seven-year tenure. Something that, granted, hadn't been accomplished in women's hoops at SJSU for decades.
Richard was quoted about her temporary replacement: "Greg has worked with me before and is very knowledgeable. I feel very comfortable with him as the interim head coach of the women's basketball program."
The team began the season 0-12. Star player Amber Jackson had a falling out with Lockridge, then left the team in October prior to any games played, and eventually transferred to Indiana (where she just finished her senior year averaging 12.8 points per game). What was ironic is that Jackson later expressed her distaste with how she felt Richard was treated by the SJSU athletics administration, yet it was Richard's personal selection (of Lockridge) that caused Jackson to depart. The money quote per Jackson: "I could never play for someone who I don't trust."
Curiously, Lockridge was also the head basketball coach for the Edinburgh Rocks of the British Basketball League for the 2000-01 season. His time on the job: 12 weeks. From the February 18, 2001 edition of the Sunday Herald comes the opening from this Mark Woods article:
"Greg Lockridge, recruited last summer to replace the popular Jim Brandon, lasted only three months before his inevitable dismissal but left many obstacles in his wake for current coach Iain Maclean to overcome.
"An ultra-abrasive approach on the sidelines and unorthodox approach to motivation which led Scottish international Ross Szifris to walk out, complaining of 'oppression and intimidation', were one thing.
Yet ongoing allegations surrounding Lockridge's off-court misbehaviour proved equally distracting for a group of recruits who, in certain quarters, were simply out of their depth..."
There were other 'interactions' between Lockridge and the remaining players on the women's team that then led to his being put on leave as the head coach. Again, this was Richard's choice as interim-head coach who was damaging her program.
Derrick Allen, an assistant on the SJSU men's team, was appointed as interim head coach for the remainder of the 2006-07 season.
The NCAA was also in the process of of reducing the allowable scholarship level for the women's team to 11 due to academic failings.
Richard was then let go. Her notification of this action by letter caused some to lament the method of her dismissal. However, this manner also prevented any "he said/she said" accusations from arising and therefore waylaying any legal ramifications. There's always more to any event than what appears in print but we'll leave it at that.
This is not to pile on to or be mean-spirited to a woman (Richard) who beat breast cancer once and recently suffered a recurrence, but from our perspective Coach Richard didn't establish a program. Some winning records yes – certainly a marvelous feat considering what she inherited – but not a foundation upon which to build. San Jose State did not gain the reputation of a 'coming' program and one for California ballers, let alone those in the Bay Area, to seriously consider, during Richard's time at Washington Square. Plus, her selection of Greg Lockridge simply blew up the team and season although it's difficult the see how many more wins would have happened had Richard stayed healthy, considering the talent base.
Now Pam DeCosta has certainly endured her own win-loss woes in her initial two seasons, the first of which limited any solid recruiting due to the timing of her hire:
She has brought in a mixture of junior college transfers and prepsters, primarily from California with a few regionals in the mix. What she has yet to do is land a player or two to build around, having seemingly landed role players but not 'go-to' types. But in her defense she has enjoyed only one full season of recruiting. She did land 6-foot-2 Dominique Hamilton out of Piedmont High in Oakland last year, which was a good 'get' from an outstanding program.
The recruiting haul in the upcoming period is going to be critical – for both San Jose State and for DeCosta.
Prep backcourter Alisha Eckberg, a 5-11 shooter out of the San Diego area has verbally committed. Eckberg averaged 12 points a game as a senior and was a member of San Diego Union-Tribune All-Academic Team. An ankle inury caused her to miss 12 games this season and bothered her in many more, but she scored 31 points (9-14 from the floor, 11-14 at the foul line) and grabbed eight rebounds in Canyon Crest's win in the sectional championship.
But can DeCosta and her staff establish the credibility to primarily recruit locally and regionally, with some Southern California signees thrown in for good measure? We believe that will be the key to the length of her stay at San Jose State, positively or negatively.
Kevin McCarthy is the Basketball Editor at Inside Sparta. You may contact Kevin with any questions, comments, or tips at email@example.com