Women: Which coaches might be on the move with Miami, Kentucky open?

It’s that time of year: Sports fans aren’t just watching the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments, but also the job markets for both sports. The coaching carousel, as it has become nicknamed, is already spinning.

On the women’s side, Kentucky (Kyra Elzy was fired March 11) and Miami (Katie Meier retired Thursday after 19 seasons) are the two biggest openings thus far. Another ACC job is also open in Clemson, as Amanda Butler was fired March 12.

More positions will become open as the carousel turns, but these are the vacant Power 5 jobs. Miami made it to the Elite Eight last season as a No. 9 seed, upsetting No. 1 Indiana along the way. Kentucky is two years removed from upsetting South Carolina for the SEC tournament title, but has struggled the past two seasons (24-39). And Clemson’s only NCAA tournament appearance in the past 21 years was in 2019.

Let’s look at where the carousel is right now, just before the first round of the NCAA tournament begins.

Is Miami’s head-coaching position a destination job, and what are the Hurricanes looking for in filling this position?

One thing Miami has had is stability for the past 36 years. Ferne Labati coached the Hurricanes from 1988 to 2005 — all but her last season in the Big East — with six NCAA tournament appearances. Meier, a former star player at Duke, returned to the ACC as a coach and took over Miami in 2005-06, making 10 NCAA tournament appearances. Last year’s run to the regional final, which Miami lost to eventual national champion LSU, was the postseason highlight for the program.

Under Meier, Miami was generally in the mix for the NCAA tournament and often pulled an exciting upset or two during the ACC regular season. She was known as a strong X’s and O’s coach whose teams were always well prepared. However, Miami has never won an ACC tournament title; a runner-up finish to NC State in 2022 is the closest the Hurricanes have come.

Further, no Florida school has ever advanced to the women’s Final Four. The addition of Stanford (along with Cal) into the ACC next season only makes things harder competition-wise. That said, Miami might be poised to make the most of its desirable location in recruiting, and the city itself could have appeal to some athletes regarding NIL opportunities. That’s a big part of the game now.

What it takes to assemble and keep talent has changed dramatically in college basketball because of NIL, the one-time transfer waiver and the transfer portal. There are coaches who will see Miami as a destination job and seek to make the most of that potential.

And there are also longtime coaches ready to step away from the unending grind of the job, especially recruiting. Two examples are Meier and UC Santa Barbara coach Bonnie Henrickson, who previously had success at Virginia Tech and Kansas. Meier, 56, and Henrickson, who turns 61 next month, both retired this week.

How appealing is the Kentucky job?

It’s in the all-powerful SEC, which is a big deal — but it’s also a program that has never been to the Final Four. The closest the Wildcats have come is the Elite Eight, twice. Kentucky has won the SEC tournament title twice, 40 years apart: in 1982 and 2022.

By far the most consistently successful period in program history was under Matthew Mitchell, who from 2007 to 2020 had a 303-133 record and made nine NCAA tournament appearances. Mitchell retired just before the 2020-21 season. At the time, he indicated that health reasons — he had surgery that summer after suffering a concussion in the spring — were the primary motivation for his retirement. He has since said it was also about spending time with his family and his belief that Elzy, then a Kentucky assistant, was ready to take over.

Mitchell reportedly is interested in returning to his former job. Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks is also one of the names in the rumor mill. The SEC isn’t getting any easier, especially as South Carolina and LSU — which have won the past two NCAA titles — are ahead of the pack, and Texas and Oklahoma are joining next season.

Big Blue Nation will support a successful women’s team. The bar for hoops success, of course, is very high in Kentucky. So whether the school returns to its former leader in Mitchell or looks elsewhere, what happened to Elzy is a reminder that the expectations there are much higher than before the Mitchell era.

Which coaches might be on the move?

It’s always hard to predict, but here are some of the names that could come up this spring in relation to the coaching carousel.

  • Last May, Washington State extended coach Kamie Ethridge’s contract through 2028-29 after the Cougars had won the 2023 Pac-12 tournament title. At that point, it was known that UCLA and USC were leaving the Pac-12, but not that the conference would implode. That bad news came later in 2023. Washington State and Oregon State face an uncertain future in regard to “power” conference membership, which they will no longer have after this school year ends. Could Ethridge, whose Cougars are 18-14 this season after losing star Charlisse Leger-Walker to injury in January, be lured by a major conference school willing to buy out her contract?

  • Scott Rueck’s contract at Oregon State runs through 2031, and considering his ties to the community — Oregon State is his alma mater — he seems unlikely to leave. However, his success with Oregon State — the Beavers are No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament — would make him a viable candidate anywhere.

  • Florida Gulf Coast once again won the ASUN regular-season and tournament titles. Could this finally be the year longtime Eagles coach Karl Smesko moves on, especially with the opening in Miami? Smesko, in his 22nd season at FGCU, has been linked to various Power 5 jobs over the years, including Pittsburgh last spring before opting to return to FGCU, which is 29-4 and a No. 12 seed in this NCAA tournament.

  • Carla Berube is 25-4 with Princeton this season, and Carly Thibault-DuDonis is 31-1 with Fairfield. Both have teams in the NCAA tournament, and could be sought after by bigger programs.

  • The same goes for Lindy La Rocque, who is 102-21 in four seasons at UNLV, including 61-5 the past two years, and has the Lady Rebels in the NCAA tournament.

  • Tomekia Reed, in her sixth season at Jackson State, is making her third appearance in the NCAA tournament. The Lady Tigers, 26-6 overall and 18-0 in the SWAC, face UConn in Saturday’s NCAA tournament opener.

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