COLUMBIA — When Missouri women’s basketball coach Cindy Stein broke the news to her team Monday afternoon, she was met with silence.
“They’re usually not that quiet,” Stein said. “It was a little bit disbelief. I don’t think it surprised them because I know they were getting asked all the time. They told me those things. When you actually do it, it’s a little surreal to them. I think there’s a little bit of shock."
Missouri (11-16, 1-13 in the Big 12) at No. 18 Texas (19-9, 8-5)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Tex.
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM
After speaking with her team, Stein announced Monday night in an email release that after 12 seasons as the head coach of the Tigers she is stepping down at the conclusion of the season. After starting 10-2 this season, Missouri has dropped 14 of its past 15 games. Stein, whose contract is set to expire shortly after the season ends, spoke to the media about her decision Tuesday morning at Mizzou Arena.
Stein remained composed. She smiled on her way in and out of the interview room. She cracked jokes. Her voice never wavered. No tears were shed.
“This is something that I’ve thought a lot about, and I’ve prayed a lot about,” Stein said. “It’s tough. I never want our players to ever think I’m giving up on them. I think that was probably my longest delay in this. I don’t want them to think I’ve given up on them. I still haven’t.”
She tried to remain upbeat, recalling the good times she’s had at Missouri, not the bad.
“I’ve always thought of this place as being extremely special,” Stein said. “It’s going to be a weird day when I don’t come into Mizzou Arena.”
It wasn’t easy, but it was something many felt had to be done. During Stein’s tenure, Missouri has gone a combined 184-175 with three appearances in the NCAA Tournament. The highlight was a Sweet 16 appearance in 2001. However, the Tigers have only had a winning conference record in three of Stein’s 12 seasons.
“I hope that this announcement was something that I would never have to do,” Stein said. "But I also know deep down in my heart that this is in the best interest of the University of Missouri and our team. And I love this team.”
It wasn’t really a question of if, but more a question of when. Stein said the tipping point came this past weekend before a road game at Nebraska.
“I think the speculation was becoming too public,” Stein said. “It was causing a problem … I’m looking up at the clock and there’s 13 minutes before the game and I’ve got people wanting to know what I’m going to do next year. And they’re talking about it in front of my team … It just got to the point where I don’t want to be the distraction. I want them focused on this season … If we’re having that kind of problem in Lincoln, Nebraska, can you imagine Columbia, Missouri?”
Missouri Director of Athletics Mike Alden also spoke Tuesday and praised Stein for how she handled the situation.
“Cindy and I have worked very closely for a long time,” Alden said. “I do think this year as our wins started to lessen and our losses started to mount … it became more apparent we weren’t going to be renewing her contract. I really admire her that she stepped forward and said ‘Hey look, here’s the deal. We had a good run but certainly we haven’t been able to get it done to the level we want to get it done to,’ so with that being said, she submitted her resignation, or at least talked to me about that.”
Alden also thanked Stein.
“I just want to mention how appreciative we are of the 12 years that Cindy has given to the University of Missouri," Stein said. "She’s a class person and certainly represented us as a university and as an athletic program. But now we’re in a situation where certainly we’re going to move forward to identifying who her successor will be.”
Alden said it will take some time to find Stein’s replacement because some of the candidates might be in postseason play. Missouri won’t contact these candidates until their seasons are over.
Stein will coach for the rest of the season, which includes two regular season games and at least one game in the Big 12 Tournament next week. Stein said she is unsure where she will be next year but that she would like to end this season with a flourish. Missouri plays next at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Texas.
“I still maintain a very positive outlook for this season,” Stein said. “We want to go out on a high note."