A Slow, But Meaningful Process

By Scott Rabalais
Updated: March 23, 2008


LOUISIANA — A year after the Pokey Chatman scandal, it’s hard to see what has changed for the LSU Lady Tigers basketball program aside from the person occupying the head coach’s office.

LSU is in the NCAA tournament, just like a year ago. The Lady Tigers are primed to make a run deep into March Madness, just like a year ago.

But has the Chatman situation — she resigned amid allegations of improper relationships with unnamed former LSU players while they were on the team — changed the mindset of administrators when looking for new women’s basketball coaches?

LSU Athletic Director Skip Bertman said when hiring current coach Van Chancellor he was looking for the best coach he could get. Chancellor’s credentials — a Hall of Fame career that has included four WNBA titles and a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics — certainly back that up.

But Chancellor is convinced his hire was more than about his success on the court.

“What I thought helped as much as anything was that LSU knew I stood for certain things,” said Chancellor, whose career has never been tainted by even the hint of scandal. “It didn’t make a difference whether I was a man or a woman.”

“I stood for the best interests of the student athletes. I was a family man. Above all, I was going to have integrity and do what’s best for the LSU players. Anybody who knows me knows I was going to be for my players first.”

Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association CEO Beth Bass said she believes the Chatman situation was an isolated one and agrees LSU made the right choice with Chancellor.

“I’m not naive enough to think that there are not improprieties in women’s sports,” Bass said, “as there are in men’s sports. Some may term Van as a ‘safe hire’, but it’s a darn good hire.”

“He’s a perfect fit in terms of timing for that program. With Bob Starkey (the assistant who served as LSU’s interim coach during the 2007 NCAA tournament), all the pistons are working together there right now.”

Since Chatman resigned — she is currently an assistant coach with the Spartak women’s team in Moscow — have some schools leaned to hiring men over women?

In the SEC, men have made a dramatic influx back into the head coaching ranks. A year ago, Georgia’s Andy Landers was the only male women’s basketball coach in the SEC.

At the start of this season there were four male coaches: Chancellor, Landers, Kentucky’s Matthew Mitchell and Tom Collen at Arkansas. On March 15, Alabama hired Wendell Hudson, making it seven women and five men’s coaches in the conference.

Overall, however, the numbers heavily favor women’s hires this season. Of 38 Division I coaching vacancies entering the 2007-08 season, 22 were filled by women.

In all college women’s sports, across all divisions, the number of women head coaches has been steadily on the decline. According to a study published by Brooklyn (N.Y.) College, the number of women’s head coaches overall fell from 49.4 percent in 1994 to 42.4 percent in 2006, the most recent year included in the report.

That’s a bad trend overall to DePaul coach Doug Bruno, a former president of the WBCA. He believes the ultimate goal should be for women to dominate the coaching jobs in women’s sports.

“If an athletic director has common sense and brains, they should start from a female point of view,” Bruno said. “I’m not anti-male in coaching. Not at all. But at the same time you can’t have it both ways.”

“We choose to coach women’s basketball. Women don’t have that choice. We can pretend they do, but they don’t. So it’s our job to grow female leadership.”

It’s then the job of female coaches not to get involved in the kind of situation that led to Chatman’s resignation. Bass said the Chatman episode may have stung at the time, but may be a long-term positive for women’s sports.

“Maybe we needed that ‘market correction,’” Bass said, “for the WBCA to say, ‘We have this code of ethics, we talk to our membership, and this is not going to be tolerated.’ It was good to say what we do stand for and that this is not acceptable.

“We have to all say how can we not let this situation happen again.”

Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti, who played for Gino Auriemma when she was a national player of the year at Connecticut in the mid 1990s, wants to see the best candidate — male or female — get the job.

“I’m a female coach now and I think the best coach out there is Gino, and he’s a man,” Rizzotti said. “I know they want to promote women in the game and that’s great. But I have two men on my staff. I’ve always felt whoever is going to support me the best and do the job the best should get the job, regardless of their gender.”

At the time, LSU could have probably made no other choice than Chancellor.

The real issue may be who the school hires when it comes time to replace him.

“In modern times,” Chancellor said, “I think everyone takes every situation and makes it based upon this individual situation. I don’t think if I’m a bad male coach, I don’t think it hurts the next male coach to get the LSU job. I think LSU will look and see who is the best coach.”

Undoubtedly, women’s coaches are under more scrutiny now than they were a year ago — and not just for their ability to win games.