After Successful Run At Duke, Goestenkors Leaves For Texas

Tuesday, April 3rd 2007, 8:24 pm
By: News On 6

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Gail Goestenkors accomplished just about everything she could at Duke, from winning five Atlantic Coast Conference championships to reaching four Final Fours.

The only thing that eluded her is a national title. She's off to Texas to find it.

The coach who built a powerhouse during her 15 seasons coaching the Blue Devils' women's team resigned Tuesday to take over at Texas, replacing Hall of Famer Jody Conradt.

"In the end, it came down to her seeking a new challenge at this stage in her career and her life," Duke athletic director Joe Alleva said in a statement. "While we are disappointed that she has chosen to leave, we have to look forward now and search for the best women's basketball coach for Duke University."

The 44-year-old coach won seven ACC coach of the year awards and compiled a career record of 396-99. The move was not a big surprise – she was widely considered the top candidate to replace Conradt after the Longhorn's coach suddenly resigned last month.

The decision came less than a week after about 200 fans gathered outside Cameron Indoor Stadium in hopes of persuading Goestenkors -- named The Associated Press women's basketball coach of the year on Saturday -- to stay with the Blue Devils. But on Tuesday afternoon, there was little activity around Cameron as Goestenkors met with her players off campus to inform them of her decision.

"Ever since she first told us that she was considering another job, I thought it was a 50-50 chance that she might leave," junior guard Wanisha Smith said. "With the decision made that she is leaving, I am happy for her.

"Of course, we don't want her to go. If she feels like that is the decision she needs to make and is best for her, we need to respect that."

The night Conradt retired, Texas officials made it clear they would be willing to pay for a top-notch coach. Conradt earned $550,000 a year. While Goestenkors' salary at Duke is not a public record, it was believed the private school wasn't likely to match a high offer from the Longhorns.

Officials at Texas, including women's athletic director Chris Plonsky, declined to comment Tuesday. University regents scheduled a Thursday teleconference to approve hiring a new coach, and the school scheduled a news conference for that morning.

Alleva did not return a call to his office seeking comment, though he had said recently he would do what was required to keep Goestenkors in Durham.

"I truly believe that this university did everything in its power to keep her here," said Jack Winters, director of the university's Iron Dukes -- which raises money to fund athletic scholarships. "I'd be shocked if it came down to a dollar figure. That's just not who Gail is and it's also not who Duke is."

Goestenkors visited the Texas campus last week, when she met with Plonsky and members of the school's search committee and toured the Longhorns' 44,000-square-foot practice facilities.

In a statement last week, Goestenkors said she admired the program built by Conradt, who spent 31 seasons at Texas and won her only national championship in an unbeaten season in 1986. She retired with a career record of 900-306 in 38 seasons at Sam Houston State, Texas-Arlington and Texas.

Conradt and Tennessee's Pat Summitt are the only Division I coaches with 900 or more victories, but the Longhorns last made the Final Four in 2003.

That tradition seemed to intrigue Goestenkors. The Longhorns also boasted a program regarded as one of the nation's best, with first-rate facilities and a recruiting pipeline to 1,300 Texas high schools. Goestenkors already has established herself with those schools, signing All-American senior Lindsey Harding out of the Houston area.

Those factors surely provided an attractive alternative to a program where Goestenkors, who led the Blue Devils to two trips to the national championship game, had come up just short of taking the final step.

"I know this was an extremely difficult decision for her," Duke president Richard Brodhead said in a statement, "but ultimately the lure of a new challenge outweighed her many ties at Duke."

Her last Duke team was one of her best. The Blue Devils (32-2) won a school-record 30 straight games, ended the regular season ranked No. 1 and held the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament. But they were upset in the regional semifinals by Rutgers when Harding missed a pair of free throws with 0.1 seconds left in the 53-52 loss.

Duke is now left to search for a women's basketball coach for the first time since Goestenkors was hired in 1992 to replace Debbie Leonard. And that coach will be charged with maintaining Duke's position as one of the nation's elite programs -- a position largely reached by the Blue Devils' departing coach.

"We are confident that we will attract a coach with excellent leadership skills who fits best into our mission as an athletic department," Alleva said. "That process has already started. It will continue until we find the coach who wants to lead this program to even greater heights in the future."