Back in 2005 when it became clear that Caren Horstmeyer was about to be fired, there was a lot of speculation on potential candidates for our next coach based on Sandy Barbour's background at Notre Dame, Tulane, the ACC, etc.
One of the logical candidates for speculation was Carol Owens, then a long-time assistant at Notre Dame. I remember there was some real disappointment when Owens took the head coaching job at Northern Illinois (her alma mater) before we could even initiate our search.
Today it was announced that Owens resigned from NIU after a disappointing 5-year reign (66-81). Obviously you can't compare the two job performances (turning around and recruiting at a mid-major vs. Joanne's inheritance of the fab five) but it's another interesting view of just what's happened in this 5-year coaching cycle. Other subjects of our speculation 5 years ago: Katie Meier is still trying to complete a turnaround at Miami, Dawn Staley has had her ups and downs at South Carolina, and Melanie Balcomb continues to succeed at Vanderbilt.
I can't say that the others wouldn't have worked out just as well, but I can say that looking at what has transpired elsewhere, Cal and Joanne and us fans have been very fortunate to have enjoyed the success of these past 5 years.
It's been quite a five-year stretch, no? So much has changed.
I remember looking around the net at different schools for possible candidates, because there wasn't a lot of info on the search. And I do remember seeing Katie Meier's success at Charlotte and thinking she might be a good fit. So it was interesting to have our Bears play Miami in the WNIT Final.
Balcomb was one candidate we knew about. It's interesting about her because she's pretty much had the same level of success over all these years. And her name keeps coming up for West Coast jobs every other year, so I wonder if she feels that she's taken Vanderbilt as far as she could and is still looking for a new start. It can't be easy to recruit nextdoor to the Volunteer behemoth.
OK, so now that Joanne is firmly ensconced and Cal is well on its way as an established program, what do you think should be Boyle's goals for the next 5 years? Here are my thoughts:
1. Recruiting: After a tough start, Boyle has grabbed two top classes in a row. She needs to continue this momentum. She doesn't have to pull in a top-10 class every year, but she should get talented players who are a good fit (for her system, the the team, for the university). It would be great of course to get a game-changing (top 3, usually) recruit. I also think she needs to pull in some top players from beyond the West Coast. California is a recruiting hotbed, but now UCLA is a player again, it'll only get tougher. Plus it's important to establish an identity as a national program. I'm surprised that we haven't seen more returns from the Boyle's (and Hoover's) connections on the East Coast.
2. Results: Keep winning, of course. Cal should be in the top 3 of the conference every year. This won't be easy with Stanford, UCLA, and USC in the hunt. ASU will come back, and Oregon might be another year away. In any case, Cal will need to make the NCAAs yearly. Sweet 16s should be a yearly goal, with one Final 4 or 2 Elite Eights in the next 5 years.
3. Attendance: This is the least proven area of the program at this point. After passing the 2,000 threshold 2 seasons ago, Cal dropped back to the 1600s. I know there are many factors that go into attendance at a place like Berkeley, but I think it would not be too much to expect that after another 5 winning years, Cal should be able to average about 3000 fans. This would be important for the health of the program (and the athletic department) and for women's basketball. This might also play into what happens with Joanne's next contract extension. With the economy and the pressures on the athletic department and continuing low attendance, could the university come up with enough to keep Joanne?
Attendance: This is the least proven area of the program at this point. After passing the 2,000 threshold 2 seasons ago, Cal dropped back to the 1600s. I know there are many factors that go into attendance at a place like Berkeley, but I think it would not be too much to expect that after another 5 winning years, Cal should be able to average about 3000 fans. This would be important for the health of the program (and the athletic department) and for women's basketball. This might also play into what happens with Joanne's next contract extension. With the economy and the pressures on the athletic department and continuing low attendance, could the university come up with enough to keep Joanne?
A couple of years ago I would have said that recruiting, results, and revenue all go hand in hand but as you noted, attendance has not increased to the expected level.
In the last season before Joanne arrived, we averaged 1335 per game. In Joanne's 5 years, we've gone to 1657, 1656, 2363, 2285, and 1561. (If you discount the hastily-scheduled WNIT games of this season to make it an apples-to-apples comparison, the 2009-10 figure would still be only 1684.)
In Joanne's first season, both she and Sandy commented that there wasn't any reason why we couldn't eventually draw the type of crowds that they had at Duke. If we took that to mean the most recent season (2004-05), Duke drew 4966. If we took that to mean Joanne's last year as an assistant at Duke (2001-02), it would be 3919. Either way I thought that was extremely ambitious and unrealistic, and I too thought that averaging 3000 after 5 years would be a realistic goal IF we started winning within a couple of years. Well, the winning came right away but the expected attendance hasn't.
Now, I'm sure revenue has increased more than attendance because ticket prices have increased, sections 15-17 have been converted from general admission to reserved seating, and discounts have been cut (seniors who had season tickets in the chairback sections had their senior discounts discontinued this past season). It's also my distinct impression that the percentage of non-paying or giveaway-ticket attendees has dropped, especially this past season. But given WBB's big deficit, these are small dents and way short of any realistic goal that would have been set 5 years ago (or 3 years ago, when Joanne's contract was renegotiated).
WBB's revenue (or more precisely, revenue shortfall) should definitely be an issue the next time Joanne's contract is renegotiated. But the issue may be framed in terms of what Joanne can realistically demand in the face of that deficit. It's true that for now, successful WBB coaches can continue to make their demands because if one program won't pay, then another will. But as this article suggests, there's no guarantee that schools will be forever content to spend more and more money for the intangible benefits (and never-ending deficits) of a winning WBB program. I wonder if we've started to see the beginnings of a pushback against WBB spending this postseason, with the selection of inexperienced coaches and assistants over more experienced (and costly) veterans, and the willingness to retain failing coaches who in earlier years might have been bought out of their contracts.
This will be a critical season for Cal women's basketball.
Lexi was the last player of the Horstmeyer era. All the players from this season forward will be Joanne's recruits. She can now be judged both by her coaching ability and by her recruiting (IMO recruiting has improved, but in fairness the timing of Joanne's hire limited the amount of recruiting she could do in her first year).
I don't know if any teams have made up much ground on the Furd, but several PX teams should be pretty good next year (UCLA and ASU come to mind). Kat, Wvit and Ballgrrl have followed women's hoops much longer than I and can probably provide a much more informed assessment of the other PX teams.
It is my impression that Cal will be better this next season. It is unfortunate that Brenna Heater left the team and Tierra Rodgers can not play, but the remaining players from the 2010 class should be much-improved next season. The 2011 class looks promising. Perhaps most importantly, Rama N'diaye will return.
This is a critical year for Cal, both on the court and in the recruiting wars. I believe one more season of successful recruiting will establish the Cal program as a consistently good one.