(NORMAN, Okla.) - When Sherri Coale made the leap from high school to Division I, it was a risk the University of Oklahoma women's basketball coach was willing to take.
Six years later, OU's decision to hire Coale, whose third-ranked Sooners are now among the nation's elite, looks brilliant. OU has made back-to-back NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances and are touted for even better things in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Coale has had another effect on the state's basketball scene since she took over -- her success has given other high school coaches the confidence to apply for collegiate jobs.
When Oklahoma State announced it would not re-hire longtime Cowgirls coach Dick Halterman, three state prep coaches expressed immediate interest.
The same thing happened when the University of Tulsa went looking to replace coach Marla Odom three years ago. Four high school coaches' resumes were there for that job.
Hiring Coale may have seemed a gamble by OU, but Tim Skinner knows otherwise. Skinner was Coale's high school assistant and got a firsthand look at the excellence she possessed.
"I think Sherri is a unique individual," said Skinner, who is now Norman High's head coach. "She was so far ahead of the high school game. She was a student of the game and such a personable individual."
It's true OU had no place to go but up. Coale conveyed that the Sooners could do better and make a national presence in the NCAA. The interview committee was very impressed.
"She has such great energy, vision and work ethic," said Skinner. "She's a great salesman with recruiting."
Coale developed five Division I players during a three-year span at Norman High. When she spoke at high school camps or seminars, Coale was light-years ahead of her contemporaries.
"When I worked for her, the bottom line was that she got the kids to buy into what she was doing," said Skinner. "(Her hiring) may have opened some doors for high school coaches ... not to hesitate about looking into a college job. I don't know too many coaches, though, that have the same qualities she did."
One of the first things Coale did was to hire Broken Arrow coach Jan Ross, whose attention to detail has been invaluable, as an assistant coach.
"Jan is so organized," said Donna Gradel, who followed Ross at the Tiger helm. "I looked through the files she left behind on Frontier Conference teams and players. Since I was in my first year, she had everything done. It was incredible. It would have taken me hours to break down film. Sherri picked a great assistant.
"It was a lot easier to make the jump to college since Sherri was in Norman," Gradel said. "A school could snatch someone out of high school, but I don't think that will happen. I may be wrong, but I don't think there are any Sherri Coales across the state.
"Sherri gave high school coaches the hope that it is possible and to be positive about the (selection) process."
OSU officials would not take a stand on high school coaches as candidates.
"Anyone who thinks they are qualified should apply," said Ann Baer, OSU's associate athletic director/senior woman administrator. "We will have a screening committee and take applications off the NCAA employment Web site. We'll see who applies."