Borton, 48, was fired Friday, less than 24 hours after her 12th season ended with a third-round loss to South Dakota State in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
“Our goal is to be the best program, both in the Big Ten [Conference] and on a national level,” Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague said in a news conference Friday afternoon. “We will conduct a national search to secure the best candidate possible to raise the profile of Gophers women’s basketball.’’
A decade ago the program was right where Teague now wants it to be.
Borton was hired to replace Brenda Frese before the 2002-03 season, and she inherited a team led by Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville that was on the rise. The Gophers qualified for the NCAA tournament in Borton’s first four seasons — a stretch that included their run to the Final Four in the spring of 2004 — and in six of her first seven seasons.
But the Gophers have failed to make the tournament the past five seasons.
Borton finishes with an overall record of 236-152, a 105-95 mark in conference play. But over the past five seasons Borton is 94-79 overall, 31-51 in the Big Ten.
Kelly Roysland, a former Gophers player who has been an assistant coach for the past four seasons, will serve as acting head coach while Teague conducts the search for Borton’s replacement.
Teague relayed the decision to Borton earlier in the day, then met with the team. Before the news conference, Teague said he talked with Carlie Wagner, the New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva star who is the top player in the Gophers’ five-player recruiting class. Wagner, a highly regarded point guard, told the Star Tribune she still plans on playing for the Gophers.
As for the coaching search, Teague said he hoped to conclude it quickly but not in haste. He said he had a pool of potential candidates he hoped to speak with, and that prior head coaching experience was not a must.
“This is a golden opportunity for a coach,’’ Teague said. “This program has succeeded in the past. We’ve proven we can win. We have unbelievable support. … We’re going to have a lot of people interested in this job. I’m looking forward to the candidate pool being very strong. And we’re going to get somebody terrific.’’
His criteria? The same, Teague said, as when he hired Richard Pitino to coach the men’s team a year ago. He wants a strong recruiter, both locally and nationally. He wants a communicator. And he wants a leader.
Borton declined to comment. But in a release, she gave thanks for her time with the program. “I have enjoyed becoming a part of this community,” she said. “I want to thank my players and staff over the years. We’ve accomplished a lot together and they have made the experience truly special. I want to give special thanks to our current players and staff.’’
The program began to struggle under Borton during the 2005-06 season. The team started out 17-5 but lost six of its final eight games, including a first-round loss to Washington in the NCAA tournament. Within days five players — including Jamie Broback and Liz Podominick — quit the team. That led to an internal investigation that eventually cited a communication failure between the coach and the players, a situation Borton said she had learned from.
Despite those problems, Borton had her initial contract extended twice, including a two-year extension negotiated by Joel Maturi shortly before he left the job as athletic director in the summer of 2012, — a deal that the university did not initially make public.
Borton will be due a $335,000 buyout. She was under contract through the 2015-16 season and made $485,000 this season.
The program, led by star guard Rachel Banham and freshman center Amanda Zahui B., had experienced an upturn. But failing to make the NCAA tournament this spring was a big disappointment.
Teague was reluctant to criticize Borton, saying the decision to replace her was more about the program’s future than its past. But he did acknowledge the team had underachieved this season.
“We wanted to get in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “And there were times I was disappointed in our progress and our outcomes. … But [Borton] put her heart and soul into it for 12 years, and she deserves a lot of praise for that.”
Attendance had fallen off. The Gophers drew an average announced crowd of 9,703 during the 2003-04 season, compared to 3,178 this season.
One problem was in-state recruiting. While Borton did win such prize in-state recruits as Banham and Kayla Hirt, she missed out on several others, including Braham’s Rebekah Dahlman (who went to Vanderbilt) and Hopkins’ Nia Coffey (Northwestern), both McDonald’s All-America selections who graduated from high school in 2013.
Borton recruited a well-regarded incoming class that includes Wagner, who said she learned of Borton’s dismissal through a text message from a high school teammate.
“I wasn’t expecting this at all,” she said. “I’m surprised.”
Teague stressed that the new coach will need to develop strong ties to the state’s high school community, noting the talent the state produces on a yearly basis. In the meantime, he said, he will stay in contact with current players and the incoming recruiting class.
“It will be a top priority for me,” Teague said of the search.
Star Tribune staff writer Ron Haggstrom contributed to this report.