Hill-MacDonald quits as Gophers coach

Aaron Kirscht

Ending months of speculation, Linda Hill-MacDonald resigned as Gophers women’s basketball coach on Friday, effective immediately.
Hill-MacDonald and women’s athletics director Chris Voelz issued a joint statement announcing the change, which ends the coach’s seven-year affiliation with the University.
Hill-MacDonald had a record of 66-126 overall, 32-88 in the Big Ten.
“I guess I wasn’t surprised,” Angie Iverson, the Gophers’ leading scorer and rebounder this season, said. “We had all heard all the rumors. I wouldn’t have been really surprised either way, but I guess (Voelz) felt it was time for something new.”
Voelz said she and Hill-MacDonald met last Thursday and that the coach tendered her resignation then. Voelz refused to comment on whether the resignation was forced, although Hill-MacDonald said on Feb. 26 that, as far as she was concerned, she wanted to remain as coach.
“We met, I accepted the resignation, and we’re going to go forward from there,” Voelz said.
Although the department was not required to do so, Voelz said the final year of Hill-MacDonald’s contract, totalling $87,500, will be honored. She added that private, not state funds would be used to buy out the contract, although she would not elaborate on the specific source of those dollars.
Hill-MacDonald was not available for comment. Four-year assistant coach Treka McMillian also refused comment.
The high-water mark of Hill-MacDonald’s career at Minnesota was an NCAA tournament appearance in 1993-94, the first for the program. But since that season, the Gophers have failed to approach the .500 mark and have compiled a 1-31 record in Big Ten play over the last two seasons.
The coaching change closes the chapter on a somewhat stormy period in the women’s athletics department, stemming from Hill-MacDonald’s decision to join then-volleyball coach Stephanie Schleuder in the push for gender equity in salaries in 1994.
During Schleuder’s wrongful-termination lawsuit the following year, Hill-MacDonald testified that Voelz had at times been a difficult employer with which to work. But no ill will between the two parties was evident when Hill-MacDonald signed a four-year contract in 1995.
Critics have since pointed to Hill-MacDonald’s apparent inability to attract the state’s top players to the program. Only one of the state’s 18 players that signed with Division I schools — Anoka’s Theresa LeCuyer — will play for Minnesota next season. Rochester Mayo’s Coco and Kelly Miller, Blake’s Carolyn Moos and Bloomington Jefferson’s Maren Walseth are most notably absent.
The search process for Hill-MacDonald’s replacement will begin immediately, and Voelz said she will pursue a coach who, among other things, will make recruiting a priority. She said she was interested in a proven Division I winner or a coach whose teams are “at the championship level” of Division II.
“I want coaches who know themselves and what their strengths and weaknesses are and can guarantee me that they can bring a staff that complements them,” Voelz said.
Iverson, meanwhile, said she believes the team could use more of an aggressive coach, one who could provide the occasional “kick in the butt” that she thought the team often deserved.
Still, Iverson said that she and her teammates will miss Hill-MacDonald.
“She was great for me,” Iverson said. “She did a lot for me personally. I had a good season, and she was a big help to me.
“I’m just sorry to see her go, because I think she was a good coach and we all got along with her really well.”