MINNEAPOLIS (AP)Lindsay Whalen, considered the greatest player in Minnesota women’s basketball history, resigned as coach on Thursday after a third straight losing season.
The Gophers’ 11-19 season ended with a first-round loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday. They tied for 12th in the Big Ten with a 4-12 record, their fewest wins in 12 years.
Whalen, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, was hired five years ago with no previous coaching experience. Whalen, who earned a base salary of $547,000 this year, last March was given a contract extension through the 2024-25 season. Athletic director Mark Coyle said Whalen would stay on as a special assistant to the athletics director through April 12, 2025.
Whalen, in a statement, thanked Coyle for the opportunity.
“We did things the right way and created a lot of memories,” she said, “but now is the right time for me to step aside and return to being a proud alum. I look forward to supporting and cheering on the next head coach.”
Whalen was scheduled to appear at a news conference with Coyle but was a no-show. Coyle said she was busy meeting with her staff. Whalen, in a tweet Thursday night, said her absence was due to her being overcome with emotion in the elevator on her way to the news conference. “I am a human being,” she wrote.
Coyle, when pressed on whether the parting was a mutual decision, said he and Whalen had a long meeting three or four weeks ago to discuss the situation.
“Together, we just felt like now is the right time for her to step down,” Coyle said. “She’s still going to be part of our program. She is so much loved in these hallways and these buildings. Obviously, she’s an icon. She’s on the Mount Rushmore in the state of Minnesota.”
Whalen grew up an hour west of Minneapolis, in Hutchinson, and played for the Gophers from 2000-04. She left as the program’s all-time points leader, second in assists and thirds in steals. Her No. 13 jersey was retired.
She won Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016 and played for the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA.
Whalen returned to the university in 2018 after coach Marlene Stollings left for Texas Tech, and Whalen’s first team went 21-11 and 9-9 in the Big Ten.
The following four seasons did not come close to matching the first. The Gophers never played in an NCAA Tournament or finished higher than sixth in the Big Ten. Whalen was 71-76 overall and 32-58 in conference games.
The Gophers regressed this season after losing top players Sara Scalia and Destiny Pitts to the transfer portal. Whalen brought in the 10th-ranked group of freshmen in the country, according to ESPN, and three of them were starters.
Mara Braun’s scoring average of 15.6 points per game ranked second among Big Ten freshmen. Fellow freshman Mallory Heyer and sophomore Alanna Micheaux also were double-digit scorers.
“I don’t think we’re starting over,” Coyle said. “I think we have a really great core group of people here who have made progress throughout this past year and it’s our job to find a coach who can continue to build upon the success.”
Minnesota has struggled to sustain success in both men’s and women’s basketball, a fact Coyle acknowledges. The men’s team is 7-20 overall and last in the Big Ten at 1-16 under second-year coach Ben Johnson.
Coyle said the programs have ample administrative support but have been well under .500 in Big Ten play over the last quarter-century.
“We have everything in place,” he said. “There is no reason why it cannot be done here. That’s the question we have to figure out.”
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25