More men are coaching women's college basketball teams

Two candidates being considered to replace Pam Borton at the U are men, sources say.

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Paul Fessler, who has made a power out of the D-II Concordia University women’s basketball team, says that the most qualified coach should get the job but that, all things being equal, the job should go to the woman.

Photo: JIM GEHRZ • jgehrz@startribune.com 2008,

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The Gophers women’s ­basketball team has never had a male coach.

Will the 11th coach in the program’s 43-year history break that streak?

There’s a national trend toward more men coaching women’s college teams. In the six major conferences, nearly 40 percent of women’s basketball teams are coached by men. Seven of this year’s Sweet 16 teams were led by men and, as the Gophers search to replace the fired Pam Borton, at least two of the emerging candidates are male, a source told the Star Tribune.

“We will conduct a national search to secure the best candidate possible,” athletic director Norwood Teague said March 28, hours after he ended ­Borton’s 12-year run.

There is no timetable, and candidates include South Dakota State’s Aaron Johnston and Wright State’s Mike Bradbury, a source confirmed.

But in a high-paying and high-profile job, would a man or woman be the best fit?

Not a new question

Paul Fessler has heard questions like these before. He’s been coaching women’s college basketball for 17 years, the past 13 at Concordia (St. Paul), where he has made the Golden Bears into an NCAA Division II power. An opinion he hears often and — perhaps surprisingly — supports: When it comes to women’s college sports, women should coach.

The most qualified coach should get the job, Fessler said. But he added: “As a male, I might be in the minority: I think, all things being equal, you should always hire the female to coach the female sport.’’

Fessler agrees with the notion that young women athletes need women coaches as role models. Fessler’s three assistants are all women.

“They need that support, somebody who can talk the same language,” he said.

Ruth Sinn has been coaching basketball for nearly 30 years. The University of St. Thomas coach since 2005, she spent 17 years at Apple Valley High School, where she coached the great Carol Ann Shudlick, future Gophers star.

To Sinn, the most important aspect of having women in the head coaching position is the example set for the athletes.

“In the coaching profession, obviously, you want the best candidate,” Sinn said. “But in a female sport, having a role model for your young players to aspire to, to emulate — it’s very important.’’

Played for both

Shannon Nelson played at the University of Minnesota as Shannon Bolden and was a key part of the 2004 Final Four team. She just coached Northland Community & Technical College in Thief River Falls to a 27-1 season that ended with an NJCAA Division III national championship.

“In my opinion the most important thing is the person the [Gophers] hire, rather than just the gender of the coach,” she said. “How can they relate to the player? Motivate the players, teach them life lessons, get the most out of them? How well can they recruit?’’

Bolden played for a male coach at Marshall [Minn.] High School, and then played for Borton. “I had both,” Nelson said. “I didn’t notice a difference as far as how I played, how I grew as a player or a person.’’

  • Male coaches

    39.5

    Percent of women’s college basketball teams coached by men in the six major NCAA conferences.

    59.8

    Percent of female college athletes, in all sports, coached by men.

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