The last time I had a long conversation with Lindsay Whalen, she was elated.

It was early September. We met in her office. She was about to leave for the East Coast to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Mara Braun and Amaya Battle, two of the best recruits in the best recruiting class in program history, were shooting on the practice court visible from Whalen's window. "They're great kids and they want to work,'' she said, with pride, and optimism.

Six months later her Gophers women's basketball team, which seemed to be on a rare upswing, faced Penn State on the first day of the Big Ten tournament at Target Center. Penn State had lost twice to the Gophers this season and had lost six straight entering the tourney.

Penn State opened the game with a full-court press. The Gophers acted like they had never seen one before. Soon, they trailed 21-3, en route to a five-point loss. A day later, Whalen was out as Gophers coach, and she did not show up for a news conference at which she was scheduled to speak.

Making good money coaching her alma mater and working with players she recruited, Whalen mostly looked and sounded miserable for much of this season.

Which reprised the end of her playing career. She tried to play one last season for the Minnesota Lynx, in 2018, and didn't play well. Before the season was over, she announced her retirement as a player and her acceptance of the Gophers coaching position.

It was worth a try. When the greatest winner in Minnesota history wants to lead the team that she took to the Final Four, you nod and give her the job.

That her tenure was relentlessly unsuccessful is a reminder that coaching is not knowing. Coaching is instilling.

The brain waves that made Whalen a brilliant point guard didn't make her players better.

As a player, Whalen would have giggled while shredding that Penn State press. As a coach, even with talented guards on the floor at the end of a long season, her team looked unprepared.

A 20-minute news conference with Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle on Thursday didn't clarify how this decision was made. He repeatedly mentioned meeting with Whalen a year ago, and then again a few weeks ago.

He described Whalen's departure as the result of a long-running conversation between the two. He also expressed frustration that his basketball programs are historically poor and currently inept.

When attempting to diplomatically describe Whalen's position, he said that the state of college basketball is "upside down,'' because of NIL (name, image, likeness) and the transfer portal.

In the past two decades, three Minnesota-born Hall of Fame athletes have taken head coaching or managing positions with prominent local teams.

Kevin McHale, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, went 39-55 as the Timberwolves' head coach.

Paul Molitor, a Hall of Famer and one of the smartest players ever to play baseball, went 305-343 as the Twins' manager.

Whalen, another Hall of Famer and perhaps the greatest winner in Minnesota history, went 71-79 running the Gophers.

The three combined for a record of 415-477 and a .464 winning percentage, and one earned postseason game, when the Twins lost to the Yankees in 2017.

Today, Coyle faces two major challenges. He has to try to keep at least some of Whalen's recruits from leaving, with Braun being the top priority. He has to try to hire a quality coach who will not only take the job, but be willing to stay.

In Whalen's freshman season, she played for Cheryl Littlejohn. The Gophers fired Littlejohn and replaced her with Brenda Frese (then Oldfield).

Frese went 22-8 with the Gophers in Whalen's sophomore season, then left for Maryland.

Coyle needs to find someone who coaches like Frese but wants to grow roots in Minnesota like Whalen.

If that were easy to do, the Gophers wouldn't have been willing to hire a novice head coach five years ago, even one named Lindsay Whalen.