The Minnesota Golden Gophers officially introduced new women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen to the public at a press conference from center court at Williams Arena Friday afternoon. Whalen needs no introduction as she starred for the Gophers from 2000-2004 leading the Gopher women to their only Final Four in school history in 2004. Whalen obviously has the basketball IQ for the job, but as we all know there is a lot more into coaching than just basketball IQ. Her press conference this afternoon was the first look into her plans for how she plans to run her program and how she plans to balance the running of a Power Five basketball program and continue to play in the WNBA for the Minnesota Lynx. If you missed it, you can watch the entire press conference below:
Whalen will make $400,000 in her first year on the job. Her salary will increase each year in the position. She will make $457,500 in Year 2, $496,500 in Year 3, $521,325 in Year 4, and $547,391 in Year 5. This is slightly less than Marlene Stollings made as the Gophers head coach. Stollings made $500,000 in her first year on the job. She got a significant raise when she left Minnesota for Texas Tech and will make $700,000 in base salary next season and receive an additional $200,000 signing bonus, and she will get a $20,000 raise every season of her five year contract.
There is no doubt the Whalen hiring is an immediate boon to the Gophers public relations department and to ticket sales for the Gopher women’s team. Gopher athletics director Mark Coyle stated after the Whalen press conference that since the Gophers announced the hire on Thursday afternoon, as of 1:30 PM Friday Minnesota had sold an additional 178 season tickets.
#Gophers AD Mark Coyle said 600 percent jump in season ticket sales from this point last year. There were 178 season tickets sold in 23 hours after Whalen was announced as head coach. @GopherWBB sold 1,138 season tickets last year. Might double that at this rate pic.twitter.com/hqmKI9XBuZ— Marcus R. Fuller (@Marcus_R_Fuller) April 13, 2018
Whether Whalen can coach, there is no doubt the buzz for Gopher women’s basketball in this town is arguably as high a pitch as it has been in at least a decade, if not back to the 2004-2005 Sweet 16 team in Pam Borton’s first year on the job. This is only a good thing.
It is also a good thing that a Minnesota legend has come back to try and revitalize the program so she dearly loves. She wants others to have the same opportunity she did, running onto the court at a final four representing their state and team. But it will be a long and arduous journey to that point.
Let’s not bury the main criticism any longer. Whalen has no coaching experience. Yes she was a star point guard, a coach on the court you might say. Yes she has gleaned things from some of the best coaches in the world in Cheryl Reeve and Geno Auriemma. But until she is on the stool in front of the bench in The Barn, it’s anybody’s guess how she will coach. Her opening press conference did not provide any solace for the doubters on that front. Whether there is anything she could have said is an open question. More positive was the video of her meeting her players. Whalen has a natural rapport when she is talking basketball, and Mark Coyle is not a stupid man. Absent any evidence to the contrary, it is reasonable to suppose that the interview with Whalen went far more in depth on her plans.
It is also anybody’s guess how long she will pull double duty. She was asked on Friday if she had an idea how long she thought she would want to both coach and play in the WNBA, and she did not have a clear answer. She said that it would be a conversation between herself, the U and the Lynx after each season to see how they all feel about another. But if she is planning on making this her last season playing, she was very good at keeping that close to the vest and not letting it be publicly know.
Were Whalen to continue playing for several years, she will need to have quick success. A final season to compete for one last championship with the Lynx is understandable, if unorthodox. Several seasons with the Lynx without sustained success and measurable growth should lead fans to wonder if the Gophers would have been better served with a full time coach.
The good news is that Whalen states repeatedly that she plans on hiring a very experienced staff to help her out to lessen the learning curve and to pull a good portion of the load while Whalen does plays in the WNBA this summer and any potential future summers down the road. This is needed and her hires to these positions will be eagerly awaited and scrutinized. However, who she may be thinking for these hires still remains a mystery. She was directly asked about the formation of her staff at her press conference and gave the question a stiff arm to rival the ones thrown by Shannon Brooks.
She did the same to a Marcus Fuller question about how she plans to balance recruiting and playing in the WNBA. It’s very possible she does not yet know the complete answer to these questions—and that’s fine. But it would have been nice to hear some answer to the question, even if its completely fabricated rather than speak in extreme generalities.
It was quite apparent to those who saw the opening press conferences of both PJ Fleck and Bob Motzko that they “won the press conference” Whalen did not on Friday. Nick Saban never does. Winning the press conference is the most overrated and unimportant question in sports. If she wins the lack of verbosity will be a fun quirk. If she loses, there will be a lot of focus on the umms she lets fly.
Achieving the lofty goals of Big Ten Championships will not be easy or quick. But Whalen has all the potential in the world, and now we wait to see just how she fairs when she needs to make the critical decision off the court just as she does on it.