After winning the program’s first NCAA women’s basketball tournament game since 2009, Marlene Stollings spoke of taking another step with her Gophers next season.
That was until Texas Tech reached out about its coaching position last week, eventually presenting her with an offer that pulled her to Lubbock, four years after arriving in Minnesota.
Stollings was announced as the new coach of the Lady Raiders on Monday. She leaves Minnesota after a 24-9 season and an overall 82-47 record.
“I am very proud and honored to be named the head coach at Texas Tech and to be a part of the Big 12 Conference,” she said in a statement. “Texas Tech has a storied tradition of success, and I am eager to return this program to national prominence. We will play a fun, up-tempo style of basketball that student-athletes will enjoy and the fans will find exciting to watch.”
Stollings, 43, implemented that same style at the U when she replaced Pam Borton in 2014 after two seasons at Virginia Commonwealth (2012-14) and one at Winthrop (2011-12).
Her replacement will inherit three returning starters, including All-Big Ten guard Kenisha Bell and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Destiny Pitts.
“We wish her the best in her new position,” Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle said. “We have already begun identifying candidates to be our next head coach.”
Before Stollings’ departure even became official, fans were already speculating about Lindsay Whalen as a potential replacement despite having no coaching experience and being an active player in the WNBA. The Lynx star played for the Gophers from 2000 to ’04, leading them to the 2004 Final Four.
Whalen, 35, has given no public indication that she won’t play in the upcoming WNBA season, however. Reached by the Star Tribune on Monday, she declined to comment on the job.
If Whalen were to return to the U, she would give the Gophers fan base a jolt and perhaps boost the program’s recruiting — a potential big win considering local talent is on the rise.
Ex-Lynx assistant Jim Petersen, a former Gophers and NBA player, said “probably not” on Monday when asked if he would be interested in the job, because he enjoys being the Timberwolves TV analyst for FSN.
Possible candidates could include South Dakota State coach Aaron Johnston, Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey, Gophers assistant Nikki Lowry-Dawkins and Connecticut assistant coach Marisa Moseley, a former Gophers assistant under Borton.
At Texas Tech, Stollings replaces Candi Whitaker, fired in January after 4½ seasons. The Lady Raiders completed a 7-23 season (1-17 in the Big 12) under Whitaker’s assistant Shimmy Gray-Miller. Gray-Miller had Stollings as an assistant coach at St. Louis from 2005 to ’07.
Terms of Stollings’ deal were not announced. Stollings will be introduced at a news conference on Wednesday.
College basketball analyst Debbie Antonelli said Texas Tech’s tradition was a big selling point for Stollings, which includes 11 Sweet 16 appearances between 1992 and 2005 and a 1993 national title under Marsha Sharp. Sharp won 571 games in Lubbock and is now associate athletic director.
After interviewing at Texas Tech last week, Stollings told Antonelli she felt torn having to leave behind players she loved coaching at Minnesota.
“She was trying to remove the emotion from it and make a very good decision for what would be best for her future,” Antonelli said. “She didn’t apply for the job. [Texas Tech] sought her out and went after her. You want to leave a job better than you found it. She did that.”
The Gophers lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Stollings’ first season in 2014-15, but the appearance broke a five-year tournament drought. As a No. 10 seed this season, they beat Wisconsin-Green Bay last month before falling to Oregon in Eugene.
In August 2015, before Coyle was hired at Minnesota, Stollings signed a one-year extension that put her under contract through the 2020-21 season. She was making $500,000 per year.
Stollings landed strong transfers with state ties, like Bell, but was unable to sign any Minnesota high school players. She inherited the U’s career leading scorer, Rachel Banham (Lakeville North), and Carlie Wagner (New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva) from Borton.
“I was just very lucky to have her for four years and have her teach me so much,” Wagner said Monday. “Sad to see her go, but you know that they’ll bring in somebody that will still keep the program where it’s at and make everything great.”