Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Barefoot's departure a win-win for her and Old Dominion
Nobody who ever met Karen Barefoot could deny how much she loved being the Old Dominion women's basketball coach. Maybe you think all that positivity, all that over-the-top enthusiasm was an act that disappeared once she went behind the curtain.
Nope, that's Karen, morning, noon, night, a woman who could find something good to say even after, well, a 30-point loss, and perhaps that's why her biggest strength might also be among the reasons Old Dominion never reached the national success under her that was taken for granted under Wendy Larry.
The Lady Monarchs have never been to the NCAA tournament under Barefoot. This year with a veteran team that included WNBA second-round draft pick Jennie Simms, they didn't earn a postseason bid. The best teams in the nation no longer visit Norfolk. The home-and-home Tennessee series is a memory.
ODU used to be the best team in the state or always in the top two. Now you'd have to list James Madison, Virginia, Virginia Tech, William and Mary and maybe even Radford ahead of them.
Barefoot won games at ODU, but the team's very educated fan base remembers when the Lady Monarchs were contenders, conference champions, Sweet 16 regulars. It's a Top 25 level that ODU hasn't been close to achieving since Barefoot took over the program.
But she graduated players; ODU's APR rate was pathetically low when she took over. She created an infectious mood around the program that appealed to her players. She was da bomb in the community, a motivational speaker who could incite a lazy teenager to take out the trash. Her passion was never in doubt. She was hard not to embrace -- literally, every time you saw her.
But coaching is a bottom line business. And that's why the born-and-raised Virginia native, who grew up a bridge-tunnel ride away from Old Dominion, is likely a better fit for a program four hours south of Norfolk.
On Wednesday, Barefoot was named head coach at UNC Wilmington, a team that went 42-112 over the last five seasons under Adell Harris. This is a program Barefoot can elevate as she did during her Elon years when she took the Phoenix from five wins in her first season to 20 victories three years later, achieving Elon's first postseason bid in the Division I era.
But Old Dominion was a different kind of cat. National championship banners hang in the rafters. Seventeen CAA championships was a dynasty. Even in Wendy's final year -- one when the Lady Monarchs did not reach the postseason -- they beat a pair of NCAA Tournament teams and were the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. An at-large bid to the NCAAs wasn't out of the question until a quarterfinal loss in the CAA tournament.
An at-large bid has never been a remote possibility under Barefoot. Her teams peaked in March, but never enough to bring home a conference title. Results from November until February eliminated them from the national discussion. If we had to choose a highlight, it was last year's run to the Conference USA championship game as a fifth seed.
That team didn't receive a WNIT bid, either.
We're six years in now. If ODU is ever going to have a taste of its glory days, they've got to be ready to win a few in November and December against some opponents of significance. As much as everybody likes Karen, that's not Barefoot basketball. Whether the roster was filled with freshmen or sophomores or whether it was a veteran-led team driven by Simms and Destinee Young, Barefoot couldn't get it done in a place where the standard was conference championships and beyond.
Barefoot will do great things in Wilmington. With her contract not renewed for this final year, she will not have to endure a lame duck season. The top three scorers are gone and three players have transferred. The slate is largely clean; there is no messy divorce this way. That wasn't the case when Larry departed, a residue that sticks with what's remaining of the ODU faithful.
This is a win-win for Barefoot and Old Dominion.