COLUMBIA - She got her first head coaching job at Duke University in 1992. She finished above .500 in her second year. Then, she made 13 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including 10 Sweet 16s, four Final Fours, and two national title game appearances. She won eight ACC conference championships and 12 National Coach of the Year honors. She has won at least 30 games in seven consecutive seasons – the first to ever do that.
So why would Gail Goestenkors leave Duke after 15 years to take the reins at Texas?
“Coming to Texas from Duke was really one of the most difficult decisions of my life, but I felt like I was ready for a new challenge and a new adventure,” Goestenkors said at the preseason Big 12 Conference media day. “I’ve always loved challenges and I feel that I have a great challenge and a great opportunity here at the University of Texas.”
While the Texas women’s basketball program isn’t at the level of elite programs like Tennessee, Connecticut, or Duke, it’s not like the Longhorns are trudging along in the mud. They have missed the NCAA Tournament two seasons in a row, but it is Texas’ first two-year hiatus from the tournament since its inception in 1982. Goestenkors’ predecessor, Jody Conradt, is the most successful coach in women’s basketball history.
Conradt coached 31 seasons in Austin, Texas, amassing almost 800 wins, reaching the NCAA Tournament 21 times in her final 25 years at the helm. She also led the 1986 outfit to a 34-0 record, winning the national title, something Goestenkors has yet to do. So not only did Goestenkors travel halfway across the country and leaving a great job behind, but she has replaced a Hall of Famer and a living legend.
“It’s an incredible experience to follow Jody, and it is one I’m a little leery of,” she said. “Yet she made me feel so much better about it, and she told me she wanted me to have this job.
“I know I’m never going to be Jody Conradt. We have different styles and different personalities, and I would be a fool to try. But she wants me to develop my own legacy here.”
Considering the Longhorns were coming off a relatively disappointing season in which they went 18-14, but only 6-10 in the Big 12 and missed the postseason, Goestenkors has her work cut out for her.
Even though they return four starters and 10 letterwinners overall, this isn’t the Duke Blue Devils, who went 32-2 and won the ACC title, that she left behind in Durham, N.C.
After winning two easy games to begin the year, Goestenkors and the Longhorns were humbled in a 92-67 loss to then-No. 1 Tennessee. After another loss to Virginia, they regrouped to rip off a 10-game winning streak heading into Big 12 play, including double-digit wins at No. 22 Arizona State and over No. 12 DePaul.
But the Longhorns fell back to earth with the beginning of Big 12 play, dropping three of four and falling from the Top 25. Nonetheless, Goestenkors remains positive.
“The team’s coming along. Every game we get a little bit better in a certain area, but then we’ll have slippage in another area,” she said. “It’s just going to take time. I see improvements and that’s what’s important.
“Every night, it’s going to be the team that is mentally and physically tougher that will come away with the win.”
As if her players were listening in on the conversation, Texas went out and upset No. 14 Oklahoma State 70-63 on Wednesday behind 19 points from Brittainey Raven.
As Goestenkors and her squad grind their way through the brutal conference slate for the first time, with Saturday’s game against Missouri sandwiched between three Top-15 tussles, she gets a little more comfortable in the burnt orange and white.
“I’ve always been one to kind of push the envelope a little bit,” she said. “I have a fear of becoming complacent, and I would never want that for myself or my team.
“I just thought it would be so exciting to really try something entirely new and see if I could help bring Texas back to the greatness that it once had.”