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Mar. 17—When she knew, she knew.
Sherri Coale declined to share the moment she understood her time as Oklahoma's head women's basketball coach was over.
"The timing of it is completely irrelevant," said Coale during a press conference Wednesday morning to announce her retirement after a 25-year run at the helm of OU's women's basketball program.
She remembers where she was and how she felt.
The most important thing, to her, is the clarity she experienced with her decision. It was time to move on and open a new chapter to her life.
So, after consulting with OU athletics director Joe Castiglione the past few days, Coale acted on her realization.
"Being the head coach of the University of Oklahoma has been the privilege of my lifetime," said Coale, sitting six feet from Castiglione inside Lloyd Noble Center.
"In April of 1996, I accepted this job. My dream job as a native Oklahoma, and I thought I had died and gone straight to heaven."
Coale departs her dream job after her team finished 12-12 this past season and lost in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals to Oklahoma State.
Her final team primarily consisted of just seven players due to injuries and off-the-court issues, yet still managed to finish the regular season with a winning record.
The Healdton, Oklahoma, native has led OU to six Big 12 regular-season championships, four Big 12 tournament championships, three Final Four appearances and an overall record of 513-294.
Her final ride will be one she never forgets.
"This season is going to be one of my all-time faves," Coale said. "It is tattooed on my heart. It was filled with challenges. It was hard. Days would go by in which you literally would claw your way from early morning to the bed at night.
"But that is life. That's when it's real. That's when you learn. That's when you grow. That's when you discover, and I am grateful for those days."
Early in her tenure, Coale's program became perennial Big 12 title contenders. OU missed the NCAA Tournament the last three seasons of her career, which followed a run of advancing past the first round of the NCAA Tournament all but two times since OU's 2005-06 campaign.
Coale, 56, was hired ahead of the 1996-97 season following a six-year stint as Norman High's girls basketball coach, where she led the Tigers to two state championships.
"Sherri came to us as a coach and teacher and remained in both roles throughout her career," Castiglione said. "There are people who come into our lives and challenge us to think bigger, more deeply and more thoroughly. Many of us have a better story because Sherri was part of it.
"She is only closing the chapter on this portion of her story, and we look forward to what is next for her. What she leaves behind at the University of Oklahoma is a classic for the ages."
Coale, the program's all-time winningest coach, led OU to 19 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, starting with the 2000 tourney. The Sooners made the national championship game for the first time in school history in 2002 but lost 82-70 to Connecticut.
Coale's teams featured program greats, including All-Americans Phylesha Whaley (2000), Stacey Dales (2001, '02), Courtney Paris (2006, '07, '08, '09) and Danielle Robinson (2010). Her players won six Big 12 Player of the Year awards, 31 received all-conference honors and 14 were drafted to the WNBA.
Castiglione isn't sure when his department will find her replacement, and Coale isn't sure what's next.
"I'm gonna be open minded," Coale said. "I know that there are lots of things that I love. I love to read and write and speak publicly and raise money for organizations that are near and dear to my heart.
"I don't know. In the words of the legendary King, Barry Switzer, I might write a book."