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Texas coach Gail Goestenkors resigns after five seasons, will stay in Austin

Published on March 19, 2012

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Video of press conference

Gail Goestenkors at Big 12 Media Day, October 2011.

After five seasons of winning only one NCAA tournament game, Texas coach Gail Goestenkors is resigning.  She leaves Texas with a 102-63 record after arriving from Duke and a 1-5 NCAA tournament record, losing in the first round the past four years in a row. Her all-time NCAA tournament record is 36-18 (.667).

“I just want to announce today that I’m stepping down as the women’s coach here at Texas,” said Goestenkors during a press conference Monday afternoon. “It’s been just an incredible journey here and really over my career. I’ve been a head coach now for 20 years and 27 total, so it’s been a wonderful, incredible journey.

Texas women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky also spoke to the media.

There are mixed feelings,” said Plonsky about how she regards the resignation. “If anything, Gail [Goestenkors] has been incredibly forthright, honest and direct. She talked to me a couple of times, mostly about how she was feeling with regard to the sheer physicality that is needed to do this job. When you are tired, it can be physically or mentally tired. Knowing her as I do and as we all do, she came to this job with torpedoes of energy. We know this profession is tough and it is getting tougher. You really have to be all in all the time in order to do the job effectively.”

Goestenkors’ last day at Texas will be Friday, March 23. She indicated that she will stay in Austin but will leave basketball.

“I’m not going to be employed by the university,” she said, “but I will be in Austin. I love Austin, except maybe in the hot summer when we get 30 days in a row over 100 (degrees). You probably won’t see me there at that point in time, but other than that, I love Texas, I love Austin, I’m going to be around and I’m going to be a fan.”

During her 20-years career as a head coach at both Duke and UT, she posted a 498-163 (.753) record. She led her teams to 18-straight NCAA Tournament berths including two NCAA Championship games, four Final Fours, seven Elite Eights and nine Sweet 16 appearances.

Goestenkors tweeted about her resignation shortly after the news broke:

Full transcript of the press conference | Video of press conference

Opening statement: I just want to announce today that I’m stepping down as the women’s coach here at Texas. It’s been just an incredible journey here and really over my career. I’ve been a head coach now for 20 years and 27 total, so it’s been a wonderful, incredible journey. And I am just so thankful for the places I’ve been able to go, the things I’ve been able to do, Olympics, World Championships, Final Fours. It’s just really been amazing, but I feel like the time has come. I’ve been tired, quite honestly. I’ve talked to (UT Women’s Athletics Director) Chris Plonsky on several occasions this year. I told her how I was feeling, and she’s tried to talk me out of it. So she’s been just an incredible support person for me and I’m very thankful for her and for the entire administration because they’ve been great. But after a lot of soul searching, I just feel like I am tired and it’s not fair to this program, it’s not fair to the university and most importantly I don’t think it’s fair to the kids to have a coach that’s just tired. So I feel like it’s time for me to step away and bring in some new leadership and some new energy and help this program really to go where I know it can go. I want to answer some of your questions before you ask them, but I wouldn’t change anything, not a thing. I feel so blessed to have been here. I told Chris that I’m not leaving Texas, I’m not leaving Austin, I’ll always be an unbelievable fan, but I’m leaving basketball, and I think that’s an important distinction.

I never came here for the money. People always talk about making a million dollars. I was offered a million dollars to stay at Duke, so it wasn’t the money. I had eight years until retirement when I was at Duke. So for people who think that it was about the money, they do not know me at all. It was about a new challenge. It was about a new opportunity. It was about an adventure. I see life as an adventure. I was ready for something new, and this has been an incredible challenge and an incredible opportunity. And I’ve grown so much in the last five years. It’s been amazing.

I followed my heart here to Texas. I feel like I’ve always listened to my heart. I’m somebody who meditates, and I’m very spiritual and I feel like I’m pretty centered. It’s hard to be centered with basketball sometimes because it’s such a focus, but I’m following my heart again. My heart’s telling me it’s time to take a break, and that’s what I’m going to do. I told Chris, you know, we were trying to figure out why was I so tired and I said I think having been involved in USA Basketball for over 10 years, I think that, although it was an incredible experience going to the World Championships and Olympics and all that, we don’t have much time off as coaches. So in the summer when you do have those moments off, I didn’t get those for many, many years. And I think it’s taken its toll on me. You know, I wouldn’t change it, I don’t regret it, but then coming here and trying to rebuild a program, I think those two in combination, especially the Beijing Olympics, was a great experience, but it was fatiguing. I remember that was my second summer. My first summer here I went from the press conference to Rome to meet the USA team and my second summer, the month of August was in Beijing with the Olympics. We got back on the 25th and we started school on the 26th, so it’s just been a constant – it’s been basketball nonstop, 24/7 really since I was probably in fifth grade.

I feel very much at peace. The hardest thing obviously was telling my staff. I just told my staff and I told my players. That’s the hardest thing because it’s about the people. I love my players. I love my staff. I think I have the best staff in America and they’ve helped me through a lot of tough times or stressful times. So that’s what I’m going to miss most is the people, but they’re always going to be in my life and so that’s a great thing. So I feel good, I feel at peace, I know this is the right thing for me personally, I know it’s the right thing for the university and most definitely it’s the right thing for the players and that’s really what it’s all about.

I’m not sick or anything, people ask that. Sometimes some of the games where we couldn’t make a basket I felt sick, but I’m not sick. And the administration has not pushed me out the door or pressured me in any way, shape or form. I think people are going to think about that, but not one bit. Chris tried, she’s very persuasive, as we know from the first time she recruited me. She’s very persuasive, but she couldn’t convince me to stay. At the end, she wanted me to be happy and she knew after we talked through a lot of things that for me to be happy I Just needed to take a step away.

On not having success in the tournament: I think, I don’t know the specific reason, but I know this year the injuries were a factor. I’m not one to make excuses and that’s one of the things we always tell our players is that there are no excuses. But I think it would have been helpful to have a few more healthy players this year. But in years past, I think we needed to sign some more kids. We missed out on some great players, that’s entirely on me and on my staff. We have great kids in as well, but we also missed on a couple that probably could have gotten us over the hump.

On whether or not she sees herself back in the game of basketball in the future: I don’t know. Right now, I cannot. Right now I feel like I’ve really – I know I need a break from basketball. But I also have 100 percent faith in God and his plan for me. And I don’t know what that is, I don’t know what form that is going to take. I’m really here to serve other people, I know I’m here to help people and empower women. I know that much. I don’t know the form that it’s going to take, so at this moment, I don’t see myself coaching basketball, but I’ll never say never because if that’s what God wants me to do, then by God I’m going to do it.

On whether or not she will remain with the university in some capacity: No, I won’t be at the university. I’ll be probably at the games and stuff, you know, I’ll be a fan. I’m not going to be employed by the university, but I will be in Austin. I love Austin, except maybe in the hot summer when we get 30 days in a row over 100 (degrees). You probably won’t see me there at that point in time, but other than that, I love Texas, I love Austin, I’m going to be around and I’m going to be a fan.

I feel very fortunate that Jody (Conradt) wanted me to have this job. That meant the world to me, it means the world to me, and that Chris (Plonsky) would hand-pick me for this job. And I feel like I’ve been a caretaker for this program and I think that’s all we all are. We’re here for a limited time whether it’s five years, 20 years, it doesn’t matter. You’re here to take care of a program, take care of players, and I feel like I’ve done that and I feel like I’m in a really good way. And I want this program to be successful, so anything I can do for Chris, for Jody, for the program, that’s all I’m going to do. I’m going to be kind of what Jody was for me. She was as close as I needed her or as far away as I needed her. She was there if and when I needed her, but she wasn’t intrusive in any way, shape or form. So I would like to do that same thing for whoever comes in next.

On when she made her decision to leave Texas and whether or not a different ending to the 2011-12 season would have affected it: That’s a good question. I just made the decision for sure last night. Like I said, Chris and I had talked about it a few times, but I called her last night and really screwed up her golf game. I told her that I just couldn’t do it anymore.

If the season had ended differently, no, that reminds me of when I was at Duke and I told my players that I was leaving Duke to come to Texas. And I’ll never forget, Abby Waner said, because we were really good that year, undefeated until we lost in the tournament, she said, “Coach, if we would have won the National Championship, then would you have stayed?” And I said, “No, actually it would have been easier to leave, because I would have felt like I had accomplished what I set out to do at Duke.” I wanted to win that National Championship. It didn’t get done, so it would have actually been easier to leave Duke had we won that National Championship.

I feel the same way here. It’s like, no we were not as successful as any of us anticipated or wanted to be. But if we had won more this year, I think it actually would have been easier to leave, like, okay, I came, I saw, I conquered, I can move on. That didn’t happen. That’s probably the toughest thing is that there’s unfinished business. That’s the toughest thing.

On when the feelings about leaving Texas began and why: I think it started probably after last year. I told my staff actually over the summer, I said, “Y’all, if we’re not successful this year, nobody will have to fire me. I’ll fire myself.” So, I had that feeling, but this isn’t about being successful or not. I feel like we’ve had successes with our players on the court, in the classroom, in the community. You know, we’ve had different successes. Certainly I wanted more on the court.

But I would say it was this year in particular that it all seemed to really hit me, and I think probably some of the injuries and things that we had to deal with that were just really unique weighed even heavier on me. And I began to realize too that these players need high energy because in college sports now there are so many things your kids are dealing with off the court, not to mention on the court with the injuries, illness, parents, all of those other extenuating circumstances. You really – it is 24-7. I haven’t turned my phone off probably in 27 years. It’s on 24-7, it has to be, because you are the mother for 14 teenagers. You are always on high alert and sometimes it’s exhausting. I wouldn’t change a minute of it, but I think I’m ready for a change.

On the reaction of the players: I think they were shocked. I think my staff was surprised as well. I’ve tried to keep as much in as possible and try to be upbeat for my players and be there for my players. So, I don’t think they saw this coming, I think they were a little surprised.

On Chris Plonsky’s confidence in her and how it affected her decision: When she gave me that vote of confidence, it meant a lot to me because I would have fired myself. She was really good, so it made me feel great and the conversations we had were really simply amazing. She’s an incredible woman, and I’ve loved working for her and with her. So, that was tough. That was something else I had to wade through. But the bottom line always came back to: Do I personally feel like I am the best person for this job at this moment and for these players? Even though there’s unfinished business, I know there is somebody out there that can finish it and right now I’m too tired to finish it and it’s not fair to anybody.

On internal conflict about her decision once it was made: I felt very much at peace once I finally called Chris. I had been back and forth a little bit for awhile, but there was a great sense of peace about the decision. I could feel, I’m very much in tune with my heart, and that peacefulness told me that that was the right decision for me and for everybody.

On how she wants to be remembered: I guess just that I was a good person, I worked hard, did things the right way, and hopefully a class act. That’s it. Wins and losses have not ever been what’s motivated me.

Texas Women’s Athletic Director Chris Plonsky
On how she feels about Coach Goestenkors decision: These were hard things. There are mixed feelings. If anything, Gail [Goestenkors] has been incredibly forthright, honest and direct. She talked to me a couple of times, mostly about how she was feeling with regard to the sheer physicality that is needed to do this job. When you are tired, it can be physically or mentally tired. Knowing her as I do and as we all do, she came to this job with torpedoes of energy. We know this profession is tough and it is getting tougher. You really have to be all in all the time in order to do the job effectively. When she said she still had a love for Texas, it never had anything to do with the team or results. We all want better results; I don’t want to discount that. We are always trying to achieve. She said she really didn’t think she had the step-forwardness that she thought was necessary for our players, it gets down to the bottom level. We talked about a lot of things, like taking a break, because she has been going at it hard. When you are an elite coach, they want you everywhere and the job is already consuming. There is truth to that and she relayed her history. I don’t think that has been different for any elite coach at any level in the country. I think about [former Georgetown men’s basketball coach] John Thompson and others who needed to step away after doing an Olympics just to recharge their batteries. I think it’s the truth. I wanted her to stay. I tried to get her to stay and I tried to re-recruit her. I wasn’t as successful this time around as I was five years ago. Maybe that means I am getting old. I want her happy because relationships and friendships mean more than that. We really came down to that it was about our players and our team. She felt it was time to give over the reigns to someone else and I respect that. I will gladly take that and attack it how we did five years ago. I will also echo her comment that we would not have done a thing different. It was hard to convince her to come here. I think she told you the truth that it was the right thing for her and us. We just regret it isn’t continuing and the results weren’t better. Those are those only two things we regret. We are going to take care of our players, that is the next step. We are going to find a leader for our players. We love them and they are the heart of our future forward program.

On why there weren’t more successes: I told [former Texas women’s athletic director] Donna Lopiano and [former Texas women’s basketball coach] Jody [Conradt] 27 years ago that what they were creating was going to come back and bite all of us in the rear end and I say that affectionately. What we were trying to achieve in women’s athletics here was going to catch on. Everyone was going to be good at some point and commit. We are living that, especially in the Big 12. It is an unbelievable Big 12 and it will be the best women’s basketball conference next year and the year after that with the best coaches. Everyone is good and there is no easy game in women’s basketball. Every arena is hot. We are competing in the most competitive league in the country. You have to have great players, you have to stay healthy and you have to play well. That is a lot to ask and it is true in every Big 12 sport. You have to bring it every single day, not only in a game, but also in practice. You sure can’t be very good in games if you are not good in practice. This place is not for the faint of heart.

On how she is personally taking this decision: I was at this podium before when another good friend, colleague, mentor and leader was here. You feel winsome. You feel like you have lost something, but you can’t wallow in that. You also want to gain. We have learned something from the last five years, just like we learned from Coach [Conradt’s] previous 27 years when she was here that we want to be better and move on. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I wish I could be steadier in my emotions about Texas, but I can’t be. I love this place and I am passionate about it. It is hard for me not to feel. I don’t think you can work here and not feel. That is what makes this place so special as a player, as a staff member, as a faculty member and as an administrator. You feel this place. It is part of your DNA and it is ok to be emotional. If you are not emotional about where you work these days, you might not belong at your company.

On her reaction when Gail reached her decision last night: I want you to know that it hasn’t been a real long time. I will tell you ironically that the very first time she talked to me was at a very critical point in our season where we just had an unbelievable game; I think it was against Oklahoma. We were both celebrating the win and yet there was something in her eyes where I asked her if she was ok. She just said, ‘I am tired and this is great, but I am tired.’ You let it go and you chat a little bit. We obviously had a great crescendo end of the season. Our kids and the staff fought their guts out to get into the tournament and it was not an easy road with Oklahoma, Missouri and home to A&M. I know you guys saw a lot of games this year. We are not allowed to bet, but I know what your all’s over-under was and we did it. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a good showing in Kansas City but got in deservingly. I thought absolutely Kansas and Texas deserved to get in. Our first five in the Big 12 were a lay-up. That committee rewarded the right teams. Saturday was a tough game. It mirrored a lot of games that we had. We probably ran out of depth, numbers and ability. I thought we deserved to be in it, just wish we had done better. We talked on the plane on the way home and she called me late afternoon yesterday. She is at peace with this and I am at peace with this for her. I wish this wasn’t the decision, but I believe in her and I trust her. This is a good person making a good, hard decision. We will both move forward from this.

On the next step and when the search for a new coach will start: You always have a short list in your pocket no matter what happens. Things can happen in sports that just don’t make sense and the timing is never good. People can be in accidents, you can lose people for bizarre reasons and you always have to be prepared. We are prepared and there is a process that the university goes by. We will form a search committee and post a job. Her last day is Friday. It doesn’t matter what the sport is, at the staff position you are always a visionary. Before you go to sleep at night, you think what if the unthinkable or the inevitable happens tomorrow, what do you do? It has been a lesson that I applied in the past and I will do it again for this.

On the work the search committee has to do: Committees have real work to do here. Ultimately, it will be a recommendation by the women’s AD [athletic director] to the president and the administration. We do things very team-like here. You guys know how we recruited Gail to get here and it will be the same way how we have hired on this staff, coaches or otherwise. That is a great thing about Texas is that we use everyone in recruiting.

On Gail’s involvement with the new coach: Conversations, but again I think she will be the same as Jody was. She will be as near as you want me to be or as far away. She can offer good advice. This is obviously a person that didn’t forget how to coach yesterday. She can still coach today if she so chose. Again, I think she needs a break from this. Unless she wants to offer it, I am not going to take up her time. I think she needs a break from the situation that she just went through.

On her thoughts about Gail leaving after five years: I believe in Gail. I know her ability and her talents. She outlined for you what she though the reasons were that we hadn’t gotten it done in this five-year period. We never talked about it in a timeframe when we hired her. You can have a five-year plan but really in my brain, you have all seen her contract. There were tickers in there to extend. This was going to be her last coaching stop; we talked about that. This wasn’t a stepping-stone. I thought she would be here a minimum of 10 years. Mentally that is where my head was and I think that is where she was too. She made a gargantuan life-changing move from a place she had built. It was hard for her, but I really think she was at peace here and settled here and went at it. Five years later, you are different, your body feels different and your head is different. What she told you, I have no doubt in my mind, is the absolute truth. She was not going to stay here and feel partway about the job and I really respect that. I love that about her. She wasn’t going to use the University of Texas. It wasn’t even remotely part of her mindset.

On Gail having any incentives in leaving: She resigns Friday and there will be a work out of how that happens. There are business and HR [human resources] people that will help with that. This is not a buy-out or anything of that nature. She is stepping away from a very good job at her call. This was not going to be by our hand. Gail was going to continue as a coach here unless she decided otherwise and she just did.


 

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