Tuesday, June 5, 2012

VCU names Marlene Stollings head coach

VCU named Winthrop's Marlene Stollings as its head coach on Tuesday, and if her impact on the Rams is anything like the one she had during her lone season in charge of the Eagles, we enthusiastically approve of this hire.

Stallings will be formally introduced at a VCU press conference on Wednesday at 3 p.m. She replaces Beth Cunningham, the winningest coach in Rams history, who stepped down to take a position on Muffet McGraw's staff at Notre Dame.

The Winthrop bunch Stollings inherited last season wasn't just mediocre (13-18). It was mediocre and dull. Averaged just 51.5 points a game, 326th out of 333 Division I teams. Then Stollings showed up, and, not unlike Cynthia Cooper-Dyke at UNC Wilmington a few years ago, changed the culture and the team's fortunes in one offseason with essentially the same cast of characters. Thanks to a newly revved-up offense, the Eagles averaged nearly 20 points per game more than the previous year (69.6 ppg, 43rd in D-I). They established 45 team/individual "firsts" in the program's Division I era (since 1986). And they contended all season in the Big South - including scoring a win over conference heavyweight Liberty - en route to a third-place finish and an 18-13 mark. No one should have been surprised when Stollings was named Big South Coach of the Year.

Stollings' credentials runs much deeper than her one season at Winthrop. She still hold the Ohio high school record for career points (3,514). She ranked eighth in the nation in scoring as a senior at Ohio University. She then racked up 10 years of Division I assistant coaching experience, the last four at the SEC's Ole Miss. Her reputation as a top assistant was confirmed in 2010 by her invitation to the prestigious Villa 7 Consortium - held annually at VCU - which no doubt set the stage for her landing the Winthrop gig a year later.

Of course, every new coach's resume sounds good at the opening press conference. The key with Stollings is that when finally given a chance to run her own program, her results matched the resume.

Stollings will be wading into another rebuilding situation at VCU. For the first time in several years, the Rams appear to be approaching a season without at least one WNBA-caliber performer around which to build. Furthermore, VCU's move to the Atlantic 10, which will include 16 teams this season, puts the Rams in a league top-heavy with quality teams. Remember, VCU was the sixth seed in the CAA Tournament despite having Courtney Hurt and Andrea Barbour. Without those two, we fear the Rams will be hard-pressed to finish in the top half of their new conference.

Then again, this time last year we didn't think much of Winthrop's Big South chances, either.

Stollings already appears to have one assistant coach in place - former Ohio Dominican head coach Nathan Bellman, who announced his resignation on Monday. Bellman and Stollings were assistants on the same staff at Wright State a few years ago.

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