COLUMBIA — MU fans will say goodbye to four seniors on the Missouri women’s basketball team when the Tigers play Texas Tech at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Mizzou Arena in their final regular season game.
They will also say farewell to 12-year coach Cindy Stein, who on Monday announced she would step down.
“I’ve always thought of this place as being extremely special,” Stein said at a press conference on Tuesday. “It’s going to be a weird day when I don’t come into Mizzou Arena.”
Unfortunately for Stein, that day is closer than she would like. Stein said she will try to stay focused on the game on Sunday, but admitted it will be difficult.
“I try to go into business mode with those things. But that’s very hard. You know your players are going to be emotional,” Stein said. “That’s always tough to watch. It’s like if you ever see your mom cry, it brings out tears in everybody.”
In the past 12 years, the Tigers have had sporadic success on the court, but Stein has always been a reliable presence for the program off the court.
“The way she represents this institution. Academically, what she does out in the community, speaking for us,” Missouri Director of Athletics Mike Alden said on Tuesday. “She has been an outstanding ambassador for our institution.”
The Tigers made the NCAA Tournament in 2005-06 but have struggled since. Since that season, the Tigers have not finished higher than 10th in the Big 12 standings and recruiting has dwindled..
“To win in our conference you’ve got to recruit. Flat out, you got to recruit. You have to be able to bring in student-athletes that can compete at this level and beyond,” said Alden, later adding, “We have to lock down the borders of the state of Missouri. We talk about that all of the time with all of our programs. For the most part, those (other) programs have been really successful here.”
Alden said he was appreciative of the way Stein handled the situation.
“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 that we wanted to get it done to,’” Alden said.
During the past few seasons, the strength of the Big 12 Conference has contributed to Stein’s problems. At the moment, there are seven ranked teams in the conference.
“As much as I think that you guys (the media) are brutal, our conference schedule and playing the teams in our league are much more brutal,” Stein said, drawing laughter from the reporters at Tuesday's press conference.
Stein’s contract was set to expire after the season and the Tigers' losses were adding up, so the decision to walk away from Missouri did not come as a surprise to most people. Stein knew before the season her team would have to perform if she wanted to keep her job at MU. If the Tigers do not win the Big 12 tournament, which begins Thursday in Kansas City, the graduating senior class will be the first class under Stein not to get a taste of the postseason.
However, Stein said she has no regrets. She said the memories she has gained over the past 12 years will be always be special.
“From the naming of the arena and to everything that’s gone on. I’ve got some great stories,” Stein said. “But I know I also need to probably keep them to myself. But they do provide good stories down the road and good thoughts. This place has so many tremendous people.”