Pam Borton was quite a survivor. She had an entire basketball lineup bail out and remained in charge of the Gophers women’s program for eight more seasons.
Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville were both gone by the start of the 2005-06 season. The Gophers still managed to start the schedule at 17-4, before losing six of the last eight (including a first-rounder to Washington in the NCAA tournament).
There was no reason for pessimism, until the defections started: Jamie Broback, Liz Podominick, Natasha Williams, Lauren Lacey and Brittney Davis, all slated to return, left the program.
Athletic director Joel Maturi ordered an investigation into the situation and reached the verdict that Borton had a “communication problem.”
Really, Joel … you think so?
The Gophers went 13-17 after the defections, then rallied for consecutive NCAA appearances in 2008 and ’09. Maturi was so enamored with Borton’s improved communication he gave her a contract extension through the 2013-14 season.
And as one of his final acts, in June 2012, he gave Borton another two-year extension through the 2015-16 season.
Maturi’s appreciation for Borton’s work was on display again last week. He was in attendance when the Gophers opened the WNIT with a 62-60 comeback victory over Wisconsin-Green Bay at Williams Arena.
Unfortunately for Pam, Maturi no longer is in charge of making decisions on the status of coaches in U programs. There are now standards to be met.
Norwood Teague replaced Maturi in the summer of 2012. Last April, he fired Tubby Smith, three days after the men’s basketball coach registered his first NCAA tournament victory for Minnesota.
On Friday, Teague fired Borton — Maturi’s favorite for contract extensions — one day after her 12th season ended with a third-round loss in the WNIT at South Dakota State.
This was Borton’s fifth consecutive season without delivering an NCAA tournament berth. The Gophers were 31-51 in the Big Ten, with finishes of 11th, ninth, eighth, tied for eighth and tied for sixth in those five seasons.
Meantime, attendance had dwindled from the big crowds from 2004 to 2006, to the fair-sized crowds of 2007 to 2011, to a precious few hundred in the winter of 2013-14.
As small as were the announced crowds, even those were inflated considerably, Borton’s bosses admitted.
I had a conversation with Teague on Borton’s future several weeks ago. His comment was that he would allow the season to play out, but the hint was that it would take more than an NCAA berth — at least one victory and maybe two — for the Survivor to survive again.
The Gophers went from 2-6 in the Big Ten to 8-8 and split a pair of games in the Big Ten tournament. When they missed the NCAA, it was over for Borton, as soon as it was over in the WNIT.
The coach had more than communication problems. She had a logic problem. She started this season with nine players on scholarship.
The Gophers had seven available players Wednesday. This was not an excuse; rather, it was inexcusable.
Teague said Friday that the Gophers had no more injury problems than most teams, and there was no reason for not having depth.
“There are a lot of players who would like to be playing at the University of Minnesota,” Teague said.
Borton never found herself in a mess with the players as in 2006, but she often failed to win over her squad as a whole. Nice enough person, Pam, but when it came to playing and practicing, she couldn’t change her highly critical ways.
You want a bottom line on this?
Rachel Banham should be remembered as an all-time great Gopher and, after three seasons, she has yet to play in an NCAA tournament.
To Borton’s credit, the new coach will be walking into a made-for-success situation, with Banham as a senior, and center Amanda Zahui B. as a sophomore, and the sensational Carlie Wagner as a freshman.
Teague called New Richland to check in with Wagner after firing Borton. Teague’s report was that Carlie remains set to be a Gopher starting next fall.
That’s all qualified candidates will need to know to say “yes” when Teague or his basketball man, Mike Ellis, calls to ask if they might be interested.