The last time a Gophers women’s basketball coach known for an up-tempo, offensive style bolted town for a job that looked like a lateral move (at best) in the short-term, she ended up winning a national championship a few years later and establishing her new school as a perennial national contender.
That was 16 years ago, when Brenda Frese left Minnesota for Maryland.
On Monday, history repeated itself in some ways and not at all in others when Marlene Stollings left the Gophers for Texas Tech.
The similarities come in the raw circumstances. Both Frese and Stollings took the Gophers to the second round of the NCAA tournament in the season prior to their departures, and both left for programs that had experienced previous success before falling on hard times.
Maryland was 13-17 the season before hiring Frese and had been to the NCAA tournament just twice in the previous nine seasons. Texas Tech won the NCAA title in 1993 but hasn’t had a winning season since 2012-13 and hasn’t won an NCAA tourney game since 2004-05.
Both moves were surprising on the surface, but for different reasons.
Frese had only been at Minnesota for one season and was instantly loved here for starting a turnaround that continued under Pam Borton. Gophers fans felt betrayed by her departure — particularly to a school that looked like another rebuilding project.
Stollings? There were fans who wanted her fired before this year’s success, and she never quite connected with the base even in good times. Is Texas Tech really a better job than Minnesota, and how hard did officials here try to keep her?
Those are questions to ponder and sort out, though it is instructive to think about the Gophers women’s basketball job this way: For all the hand-wringing fans have engaged in over the years about U coaches potentially leaving, the most notable examples in the last two decades came in women’s basketball.
Dan Monson, Tubby Smith and Richard Pitino had reported flirtations with other men’s hoops jobs, and Glen Mason was seemingly a never-ending candidate for other football jobs. In the end, three were ousted and Pitino is still here.
Maybe that’s just circumstance. Or maybe there’s something about the Gophers women’s basketball job that makes coaches look elsewhere?
Regardless, the speculation will now commence. And here we find another common thread between Frese and Stollings:
When Frese rose to prominence and left, one of the chief on-court catalysts for the Gophers was a young point guard named Lindsay Whalen. She was a sophomore when Frese started the turnaround and helped Borton’s Gophers reach the Final Four as a senior, capturing the rapt attention of countless Minnesotans in the process.
Whalen is now a veteran point guard for the Lynx and will soon turn 36. Her name will be mentioned as a candidate to succeed Stollings. The timing might not be perfect, but it seldom is. Whalen would certainly have a chance to galvanize the fan base and jumpstart in-state recruiting.
And there’s a pretty good chance with Whalen that for once paranoid Gophers fans wouldn’t have to worry about a coach leaving for greener pastures.