As the news conference neared Thursday afternoon, two microphones at the table became one. Lindsay Whalen would not be there.
In what athletic director Mark Coyle described as an emotional day at the University of Minnesota, he said he and Whalen had agreed that her time as head women's basketball coach would end Thursday after five seasons.
Whalen was upstairs in the Athletes Village in an emotional meeting with staff and players. She later tweeted that she will meet with the media in the near future.
"My sincere apologies for not being there today as I was overcome with emotion in the elevator on my way to the press conference," Whalen tweeted. "I am a human being."
So it was left to Coyle to talk about the decision — one he described as mutual — one day after Minnesota's season ended with a first-round Big Ten tournament loss to Penn State.
"We felt now was the right time," Coyle said.
Five years ago a gala accompanied the announcement of Whalen's hiring. Thursday it was a rather somber back-and-forth with Coyle and reporters. Whalen is a Minnesota icon, something Coyle said often. A star at Hutchinson, Minn., and at the U. A part of four WNBA titles with the Minnesota Lynx. Coyle said she belonged on the state's Mount Rushmore of sports greats.
Which only made the news more difficult.
Whalen will remain with the Athletic Department through April 12, 2025, as a special assistant to the athletic director. Coyle said she could do some work with fundraising and work with the ever-growing impact of name, image and likeness (NIL) on college athletics.
It sounds very much like a move that had a yearlong gestation period. Coyle talked about meeting with Whalen in New Orleans, the site of the men's Final Four last year, when it was announced Whalen would enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
That was a time when Sara Scalia and other high-profile players were leaving the Gophers; even with a highly-touted all-Minnesotan freshman class coming in, there would be a massive turnover on the roster. Ultimately there were 11 new faces on this season's team.
"We had a chance to visit down there,'' Coyle said. "We visited throughout the season. We had a very good meeting a few weeks ago. This morning we met. ... We thought it was in the best interest of the program and for her as a person that she step down.''
Further details were not forthcoming. Pressed on who provided the impetus for the move, Coyle said it was a combination of both parties. But one thing seemed clear: The conversation Whalen and Coyle had "three or four weeks ago'' was an inflection point.
Coyle said Wednesday's 72-67 loss to Penn State, which started with Minnesota falling behind 21-3, did not weigh on the decision.
Whalen, who led the Gophers to their only Final Four appearance as a player in 2004, was hired in 2018 despite never having coached. She compiled an overall record of 71-76 and a Big Ten regular-season mark of 32-58. The Gophers were 11-19 this season, 4-14 in the Big Ten.
"I want to thank Mark and the University for giving me the opportunity to lead this program five years ago,'' Whalen said in a statement released by the team. She did not immediately respond to an interview request.
"It was an honor of a lifetime," she added. "I am grateful to my assistant coaches and staff and want to thank them for everything they did for our student-athletes during the last five years. We did things the right way and created a lot of memories. But now is the right time for me to step aside and return to being a proud alum.''
Coyle suggested that the quickly changing landscape of Division I sports, with the transfer portal and NIL, coupled with the pandemic, made for an enormous challenge.
"Go back five years and look at what's happened in college athletics,'' Coyle said. "There was a lot thrown at all our coaches, not just Lindsay. I was pleased with the way she ran our program. You could see the student athletes, how much they care for her, how much her staff cares for her and how much she cares for them.''
Despite noting the Gophers' relative lack of success over the last 25 or so years on both the men's and women's teams, Coyle said he still believes there is no reason why it can't work here.
Citing the profile of the recruiting class that just finished its first season, and noting the expected influx of players, Coyle said he didn't think the new coach would be starting over.
But in the age of the transfer portal, Coyle also acknowledged that whomever is hired after a national search might face another roster-rebuild. How will the freshman class of Mara Braun, Mallory Heyer, Amaya Battle and Nia Holloway respond? Or center Sophie Hart, who transferred from North Carolina State early in the season? Not to mention high-minute players like Katie Borowicz, Rose Micheaux or Maggie Czinano? Players didn't respond to interview requests. Coyle said he talked to the team.
"We have a great core of freshman athletes,'' Coyle said. "There is great chemistry in that locker room. That's a credit to Lindsay and the great work she's done. And so, again, our intent is to go out and get a great coach who can lead this program.''