AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — After five seasons of disappointing results and failure to live up to high expectations, Texas women's basketball coach Gail Goestenkors resigned Monday, saying she is "tired" and needs to step away from basketball.
Goestenkors had two years left on a seven-year contract paying her $1.25 million per season and she needed to stay only until April 1 to get an automatic one-year extension.
Texas hired Goestenkors away from Duke in 2007 with hopes she would revive one of the nation's top programs. She never had a losing season and her teams made it to the NCAA tournament every year. But her teams lost in the first round the last four years and she didn't win any Big 12 championships.
At a news conference to announce her decision, Goestenkors seemed relieved to be free from the emotional and physical burden of shouldering the expectations — and criticism — that she should have rebuilt the program into a national championship contender by now.
"After a lot of soul searching .... I am tired and it's not fair to this program," Goestenkors told reporters a few minutes after she told her team. "It's not fair to the kids to have a coach that's just tired."
Texas women's athletic director Chris Plonsky, who gave Goestenkors a public vote of confidence two weeks ago, appeared saddened by the decision. Plonsky, who hired Goestenkors, said she wanted Goestenkors to stay and insisted the coach was not forced out after a an 18-14 season that again ended with a loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament..
"I tried to re-recruit her (to stay)," Plonsky said.
Goestenkors, 49, said she would have made the same decision even if Texas had won more games this season or gone deeper in the NCAA tournament. She said she is healthy and not facing a medical problem that forced her decision.
A more successful season would have made it easier to leave, she said.
"I'm leaving basketball," Goestenkors said. "My heart is telling me it's time to take a break."
She was 102-64 at Texas and 498-163 overall over in 20 seasons as a head coach.
Goestenkors, one of the hottest coaches in the country when she left Duke, was clearly comfortable with her decision. She walked into her farewell news conference wearing a burnt orange blouse and flashed a "hook'em horns" sign for television cameras.
She smiled several times, cracked a joke, never shed a tear and stayed around for a long time afterward to answer more questions.
"I feel very much at peace," Goestenkors said.
Yet it was a scene no one imagined when Texas lured her away from Duke to rebuild the Longhorns into national powerhouse similar to what she had accomplished with the Blue Devils: Four Final Four appearances and 10 years in a row reaching the NCAA round of 16 or better.
Goestenkors was the slam-dunk hire that her 900-win predecessor, Hall of Fame coach Jody Conradt, called a perfect fit for Texas. More than 200 people showed up at her introduction, including football coach Mack Brown and men's basketball coach Rick Barnes. Only Plonsky, a handful of Texas staffers and one player, guard Chelsea Bass, came to her farewell announcement.
Goestenkors' results at Texas never lived up to the hope.
Her first Texas team — the only one to win an NCAA tournament game — needed a late surge just to make the tournament. Every year since, the Longhorns have been bounced from the tournament in the first round.
The Longhorns seemed to be peaking at the right time this year when they ended the season on a three-game winning streak, including impressive thumpings of rivals Oklahoma and Texas A&M. But even that rise could get Texas no better than a No. 8 seed in the Big 12 tournament and the Longhorns lost their first game in the league tournament, 81-58 to Texas Tech.
West Virginia, which is set to join the Big 12 next season, bounced the Longhorns from the NCAA tournament.
Many, including Plonsky, still expected Goestenkors to return next season. The coach told her boss of her decision Sunday night.
"I thought she'd be here a minimum of 10 years," Plonksy said.
Bass called Goestenkors' resignation "a shock."
"She always had a good attitude around us and never let us know she was tired. I respect her for that," Bass said.
Plonsky now has to start another national search for the right coach to restore a proud program. She would not divulge her potential targets on Monday and said she would respectfully wait for any with teams still playing in the NCAA tournament.
The new coach will be faced with a tough challenge.
While Texas floundered, its chief rivals just kept getting better. Baylor, which won the national championship in 2005, has remained one of the top programs and is the top overall seed in this season's NCAA tournament behind 6-foot-8 forward Brittney Griner. Texas A&M, long a women's basketball backwater, won the national championship last season under coach Gary Blair.
The success of those two programs, both within two hours' drive from Austin and closer to the recruiting hotbeds of Houston and Dallas, didn't help Texas, and nor did the overall competition in the Big 12, arguably the toughest conference in women's basketball.
Goestenkors acknowledged making her share of mistakes, particularly in recruiting. Although she was able to recruit Texas well at Duke, she never matched that success with the Longhorns.
Goestenkors said she found recruiting in Texas tougher than she expected and compared it to the high-stakes competition of football. She made the mistake of bringing in a staff that had no connections to Texas high school coaches. Even the top recruits she did sign have seldom produced at high levels in part because of injuries or illness.
"We will find a leader for our players," Plonsky said. "This place is not for the faint of heart."
- Gail Goestenkors