A View From The Shadows: Women Coaches In Basketball

By Fred Whitted
Updated: February 13, 2005

 Coach John McLendon
L to R:Lauretta Taylor & Doris Mangrum

NEW YORK, NY—It’s a man’s world, James Brown once said. The only problem is, this is women’s basketball. When you look at the side lines of men’s games, you see men. Jackie McWilliams is the only woman to sit on the bench of a men’s team as a coach in the CIAA. Thus, one could conclude that men coach men at the college level, and, women coach women. Well, that is not exactly true. When you look at the bench of a women’s team, in the CIAA, and across college basketball, you are much more likely to see a man coaching the team.

Throughout the world of women’s basketball, men have dominated the modern era. There are few records of those ladies who built the early version of women’s basketball. Tuskegee has a partial set of records dating back to 1927 when Ameila C. Roberts guided the Lady Tiger program. Although many years of her records are missing, it is clear that she amassed a great record. She had twelve undefeated seasons ranging from one to fifteen games. Her known record of 119-9 is phenomenal at any level. Her 29 game winning streak still ranks among the best in the land.

Among CIAA schools, there are those who remember when battles between Shaw and Fayetteville State were marque matches. In 1939, Fayetteville State and Xavier played for the women’s national championship. During World War Two, women’s basketball was a staple because most men’s teams were terminated because so many men were called into the military. Unfortunately, this did not save women’s basketball.

Fayetteville State’s Lauretta Taylor took over the women’s team from William “Gus” Gaines in 1946 and built a dominate program. She amassed a record of 91-19 over fifteen years. In 1960, Fayetteville State joined the ranks of other colleges that cut their women’s programs to reduce costs in athletics.

When Title Nine forced colleges to field women’s athletic teams, Coach Taylor fielded a team at Fayetteville State. In the three years prior to her death, Coach Taylor posted a 60-9 record and played for the CIAA Women’s Tournament Championship in 1976. Her career record was 151-27, and she is one of the pillars for what we now know as CIAA women’s basketball.

Another pillar was Doris Mangrum of Norfolk State. Coach Mangrum guided the Spartanettes for six years and to the first ever CIAA Women’s Tournament Championship. Led by Vivian Greene, the one of the first women’s stars in the CIAA, Coach Magnum played and defeated such schools as Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth, and other white schools in the state of Virginia. She held her own with Old Dominion, one of the most dominate women’s program in women’s basketball. She compiled a record of 95-51, and had only one losing season.

In a day when there is a call for more diversity, women’s basketball is crying for more women coaches. A review of the coaching list in the Black College Sports Encyclopedia show that of the 465 coaches listed for women’s programs, only 124 are women. In the CIAA, only 37 of the 80 coaches listed are women. Other than Coach Taylor(17), St. Paul’s Janet Lee(17), Bowie’s Arlene Creek (16), and St. Augustine’s Dr. Beverly Downing(15) were the only women who had more than a dozen years of tenure. Among these ladies,

Most women have tended to move into higher education or other administrative positions. Most recently we saw this with Virginia State’s Peggy Davis, who was promoted to athletic director. Dr. Downing became the dean of education at St. Augustine’s and retired from coaching with a 262-175 record. Davis guided the Trojanettes to the 2002 CIAA Women’s Championship.

It is interesting to note that in the 29 years of the women’s tournament, only six crowns have been won by women. Doris Mangrum won two (1975 and 1977). Peggy Davis (2002) and Bertha Cummins (1990) of Virginia State won one each, along with Yvonne Edwards (1984) of North Carolina Central and Maceo Smith (1979) of Fayetteville State. The latter two are part of the interesting part of CIAA history. The 1984 Eagles were the lowest ranked team to win the women’s tournament. In 1979, Maceo Smith, a dance instructor at Fayetteville State, was put in charge of their women’s team after their second coach in two years died. She guided the Lady Broncos to their first CIAA Championship. She was replaced the following year.

Although the overall success of women on the sidelines has been marginal, no one see women coaches as marginal. Across the board, women have succeeded when given the opportunity and support. When their positions have been given proper support, they have stayed and built successful programs. Case in point, Shirley Walker has been at Alcorn State for nearly 30 years. She has built a thriving program for the Braves. Patricia Bibbs did the same at Grambling in her 20 years there. Things were put in place for them to succeed, as they have for such men as Jim Sweat and the late Nelson Brownlee. Theresa Check at Central State spent 17 years on the sidelines for the Marauders. She guided them to the NAIA National Tournament on numerous occasions before she was promoted to athletic director two years ago.

Women can succeed in the CIAA if given the opportunity to succeed. During his tenure as athletic director at Fayetteville State, JD Marshall made a point of hiring women as basketball coaches. He hired three between 1980 and 1988. His first two left for bigger programs. Like most CIAA schools, there is not sufficient priority given to the women’s basketball programs. This should come in the form of both funding and staffing. It should also be in the form of scheduling. A few years ago, Fayetteville State gave their women’s team several prime time games. The men’s team played in the opener, with the women playing in the feature game. While this seems like a small thing on the surface, it allow full coverage by the press, and a larger audience got to see them play.

Unfortunately, this was short-live because of a change in athletic directors. If you look at the great programs in the country you find that they have great support from their administrators, and their administrator provides maximum exposure in the media. This could work in the CIAA. Just look what it has done for the CIAA Tournament.