Texas women’s basketball coach Karen Aston was fired Friday after failing to return the program to the glory days of Jody Conradt.
Aston was 184-83 in eight seasons, making six straight NCAA tournament appearances including a trio of Sweet 16 appearances and an Elite Eight appearance. But Texas never won a Big 12 Conference title under Aston and went 32-47 against Top 25 teams, including 1-18 against Baylor, which is the state’s top program alongside Texas A&M.
Baylor has won three national championships and 11 Big 12 regular-season championships under head coach Kim Mulkey. A&M, which lost 14 of 15 to Texas from 1999-2005 when it was the Big 12’s worst program, made 14 straight NCAA tournament appearances from 2006-19 under Gary Blair, who won the national championship in 2011 and is in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame along with Mulkey.
Before Baylor and A&M established themselves, the state was ruled by Texas and Texas Tech. Texas went 783-245 in 38 seasons under Conradt with 12 regular-season conference titles, and Texas Tech went 572-175 in 24 seasons under Marsha Sharp with eight regular-season conference titles. Both schools won national titles, Texas in 1986 and Texas Tech in 1993.
“I think the emergence of Texas A&M and Baylor had more to do with what was going on there than who was coaching at Texas Tech or Texas,” Blair said. “You had to replace two Hall of Fame legends, and it’s hard for that next person to come in and have success.”
Blair said the same thing happened when Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt and UCLA men’s coach John Wooden retired. Blair said in those instances the successor had some degree of success, but not enough because the bar was set high by the predecessor.
Sharp was replaced by current Alabama coach Kristy Curry, who went 130-98 in seven seasons at Texas Tech but had only two NCAA tournament appearances. Curry was replaced by former Texas Tech player Candi Whitaker, who was 55-82 in five seasons. Current Texas Tech coach Marlene Stollings just finished her second season. She’s 31-27 overall and only 10-24 in conference play.
Texas hired Duke’s Gail Goestenkors in 2007 to replace Conradt. Goestenkors was 396-99 in 15 seasons with the Blue Devils and had made 13 straight NCAA appearances, including a pair of runner-up finishes, two other Final Four appearances and three more Elite Eight trips. But Goestenkors was a bust in Austin. In five seasons she advanced past the first round of the NCAA tournament only once, losing in the second round. Her best finish in the Big 12 was a tie for fourth. Texas also finished sixth, seventh, eighth and tied for seventh in the Big 12 under Goestenkors.
Aston was able to reach the Elite Eight in her fourth season at Texas, but she lost in the first round in 2019 and was 19-11 this season, including 11-7 in the Big 12 for third place. Texas was projected to make the NCAA tournament, but it was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“After evaluating and reviewing where we stand as a program and discussing the future, we have determined to move in a different direction with our continued goals to work to contend for conference championships and NCAA elite status,” Texas athletic director Del Conte said.
Last month Del Conte opted to keep men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart, who is 90-78 in five seasons at Texas including 40-50 in the Big 12. Smart has made a pair of NCAA tournaments, losing in the first round both times. Texas was 19-12 last season, including 9-9 in league play. Smart has three years and $10.5 million left on his contract. Aston’s contract expired.
Replacing Aston will be the third head coach hire by Del Conte, who came to Texas in December 2017. He hit a home run by hiring Oregon’s Mike White as softball coach, replacing Connie Clark, the program’s inaugural coach. White, who made five Women’s College World Series appearances with Oregon, was 41-14 in his first season with Texas, reaching the super regionals. Texas went 24-3 this season and ranked third in the country when the season ended. Del Conte’s other hire came in track with Kentucky’s Edrick Floreal.
Former Texas players currently coaching include 61-year-old Nell Fortner, who was 20-11 last season at Georgia Tech. Fortner, who led the Texas volleyball team to a national championship, had been out of coaching since 2012. Kamie Ethridge, who played guard for Conradt, was 83-44 in four seasons at Northern Colorado but is only 20-41 in two seasons with Washington State.
Another possible candidate is former A&M assistant Vic Schaefer, who is 221-62 in eight seasons at Mississippi State. He lost in the national title game in 2017 and ’18 and reached the Elite Eight last year. His name surfaced last year when Tennessee hired Missouri State’s Kellie Harper to replace Holly Warlick. Both had played for Summitt.