U seeks women’s basketball coach

Anthony Maggio

After firing Minnesota women’s basketball coach Cheryl Littlejohn on May 14, women’s athletics director Chris Voelz is now actively searching for a replacement she hopes to name in about six weeks.

Littlejohn, who compiled a record of 29-57 in four years with the Gophers, was terminated after investigators found a dozen instances in which the coach violated NCAA rules.

Voelz said she has enlisted the help of a “coaching team” to nominate and provide information about possible candidates and has a list of about a dozen names from which she will begin her search.

“I told them, ‘This is my short list. Who’s missing?'” Voelz said. “They were able to affirm my own directions as well as give me some new directions. You look for the names that keep coming up.”

Virginia Tech head coach Bonnie Henrickson said she was contacted by the University but declined the offer, “not because of any negatives at Minnesota but because of the positives at Virginia Tech.”

A handful of other coaches have expressed their interest in the job publicly, calling the chance to coach the Gophers a tremendous opportunity.

Though they have yet to be contacted by Voelz and the University, Al Brown, assistant coach at Tennessee; Denise Dove Ianello, associate head coach at Arizona; Gene Roebuck, head coach at North Dakota; Joe McKeown, head coach at George Washington and Vic Schaefer, associate head coach at Arkansas, said they are willing to listen should the phone ring.

“Minnesota’s a sleeping giant,” Schaefer said. “You look at three components that make that position a great opportunity. First, the academics at the University. Second, there’s great in-state high school basketball. Third, there’s great financial support for the program. I know there’s concerns about possible NCAA sanctions, but you overlook all of that because they’ll go away at some point.”

“I would cherish the opportunity,” Dove Ianello said. “It’s a job where you could one day reach the pinnacle of success.”

Other possible candidates include: Sharon Fanning, head coach at Mississippi State; Cheryl Burnett, head coach at Southwest Missouri State and Jody Runge, former head coach at Oregon.

When contacted, Runge said she had not been called by the University and refused further comment.

Brown, Ianello and McKeown are all candidates with Minnesota ties. Brown was an assistant for Minnesota’s men’s basketball program under Clem Haskins from 1988 to 1991.

Ianello was born and raised in Minnesota and her father served as an assistant under Jim Dutcher from 1980 to 1982.

McKeown owns a house in the Brainerd area, and one of his assistant coaches, Tori Harrison, was an assistant for Littlejohn before joining the George Washington staff. McKeown also has relationships with several high school coaches in Minnesota.

Voelz will meet with University Vice President Tonya Moten Brown to determine marketplace value for the new coach and might ask for more than the $101,500 made by Littlejohn.

“We will pinpoint an appropriate area and go from there,” Voelz said.

On Friday, Voelz took 13 calls in a two-hour span and is encouraged by the forthcoming merger between a hopeful coach and program.

“I’m looking for mature, experienced people, but those people come in a lot of different forms,” Voelz said. “I’m really going to keep my blinders off, except to look for certain attributes and experiences that will provide a seamless entry into this position.”

 

David La Vaque welcomes comments at [email protected]
Anthony Maggio welcomes comments at [email protected]