Tuesday, April 5, 2016

#onlyinWBB do we give head jobs to men with no experience coaching women

We're at the point in the season where coaches come and coaches go. And we remain amazed at the lengths some folks will go to put a men's basketball assistant in charge of their women's basketball program.

The latest example of the ol' inside-the-athletic-department shuffle came, unfortunately, within our stomping grounds over at Norfolk State. A few weeks ago, the Spartans named men's basketball assistant Larry Vickers head coach of the women's team after a bizarre 11-game stretch in which he ran the women's team while still assisting the men's.

It didn't go unnoticed in the WBB community.

Norfolk: Now its official. Larry Vickers, Norfolk mens asst (w/no experience coaching women, except as interim HC) is new HC.

Give NSU credit for expedience. Vickers got the job officially just 24 hours after the Spartans lost by 24 points in the first round of the MEAC tournament. In fact athletic director Marty Miller acted so quickly, we wonder if the job wasn't Vickers' from the moment he took over the 0-16 Spartans from Debra Clark in mid-January.

Still, the speed at which the Spartans moved to lock in Vickers, who had never been a head coach before, begs several questions. Among them:
  •    How much due diligence was performed before NSU made this hire?
  •    Did Vickers really show so much during a stint in which the Spartans went 3-8 that no other    candidates earn serious consideration?
  •    Is this really the way to fill a head-coaching vacancy in a Division I program?
None of this is meant as a knock on Vickers, who has bled Green and Gold as player and men's coach at NSU. Maybe he'll get up to speed quickly in the women's game. We certainly hope he does.

Our issues are with the process that led to Vickers getting the gig, and the misguided idea that experience in the men's game makes one fully qualified to lead a D-I women's team.

According to the NCAA's own research on gender diversity, 66 percent of Division I teams were coached by women in 2009-10. That number has declined every season since and was at 58 percent in 2014-15, the last year of the study.

We asked Hall-of-Fame coach Marianne Stanley about the trend. "It's disturbing," she said. "There certainly are a number of qualified women who should be coaching at all division levels. I think it's incumbent upon athletic directors to do their due diligence and identify them."

We don't have a problem with a lot of the reasons men get women's head-coaching jobs. And when one considers that all four teams in this year's Final Four were led by men, clearly such a move often pays off big. But it's one thing when women don't get jobs they interview for. It's another when women don't even get the chance to apply. And frankly, it's even another when you call upon an assistant down the hall from another program to take over your women's team while staying in his current position, as happened with Vickers for most of the conference season.

And while this clearly impacts women, it's an issue for men working in the women's game as well. We know of one male assistant on a Division I women's team who was very intrigued by the NSU opening. His hiring would have addressed one of the Spartans' biggest issues over the past decade or so - the inability to attract in-state recruits.

We'll never know how he would have worked out. More importantly, Norfolk State will never know, either.

Former Olympic coach Anne Donovan said she's not in favor of any kind of gimmick that would require ADs to include a woman in a pool of hiring candidates, but like her former coach Stanley, she doesn't like the direction WBB coaching is headed.

"A lot of it comes down to who do we want coaching our young women? what kind of mentors are they?" she said. "If I'm hiring, whether it be for a head job or an assistant position, .I"m going to look at every quality candidate. If the best candidate is a guy he should get the job I would hope."

As for the "basketball is basketball" arguments we commonly hear when a women's basketball outsider moves down the hall to take over, consider the case of former Virginia Tech coach Dennis Wolff. Wolff came with ample men's basketball coaching experience. Still, he struggled initially in his debut  coaching women, particularly in recruiting. Without a network in the women's game, Wolff relied heavily on international players to fill out his roster for two or three recruiting cycles before Tech could make inroads in the state and region.

Furthermore, over the years we've had several men who have coached both men and women tell us that while plays are similar, the best ways to motivate and get the best out of one group may not necessarily be ideal for the other. 

Vickers has 11 games of experience coaching women. Is that enough? Norfolk State is betting that it is. 

It's a gamble we wish Norfolk State, and others schools considering a men's assistant to lead their women's team, would think long and hard about. Our sport -- and the women coaching and playing in it -- deserve that.

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