Lindsay Whalen steps down as Gophers women’s basketball coach
The former Minnesota All-American and WNBA champion leaves with overall mark of 71-76, 32-58 in the Big Ten
MINNEAPOLIS — There was a conspicuous absence at the hastily arranged news conference the University of Minnesota called to discuss Lindsay Whalen’s decision to step down as the Gophers women’s basketball coach.
So, while athletics director Mark Coyle answered questions for 20 minutes inside the Bierman Athletics building, it remained unclear exactly why Whalen’s five-year tenure at her alma mater ended Thursday.
“Together, we just felt like now is the right time for her to step down,” Coyle said.
The AD later said the decision was essentially made during a meeting he had with Whalen about three weeks ago and then confirmed on Thursday morning. “I don’t mean to be vague,” he said. “We’ve had very open and honest conversations, and we felt like now was the right time.”
The All-American guard from Hutchinson who helped build the Gophers into a Final Four team and later won four WNBA championships with the Minnesota Lynx was supposed to be at Thursday’s news conference but Coyle said she was still talking to her staff about the change and he “wanted to be respectful of those conversations.”
“It’s been an emotional day,” he said.
Coyle said the reason for Whalen’s absence was a “miscommunication on my part.”
Whalen was hired right out of the WNBA to coach at her alma mater in 2018, before her final playing season was even over. During her tenure,the Gophers were 71-76 overall, 32-58 in the Big Ten. Her last team finished the season 11-19 overall, 4-15 in the Big Ten after losing to Penn State on Wednesday in the first round of the conference tournament at Target Center.
After falling behind 21-3, the Gophers rallied to tie the game with 45 seconds left before losing, 72-67.
“I was very pleased with how she ran her program,” Coyle said. “If you could see the student-athletes now and how much they care for her, how much the staff cares for her, how much she cares for them, it’s a really special group of people.”
Asked whether the impetus for the decision was his or Whalen’s, the athletics director who hired Whalen for her first head coaching job at any level said, “I think it would be a combination of both.”
Whalen did not answer text messages Thursday. Coyle said Whalen, who remains on the payroll as a special assistant to Coyle until April 12, 2025 — the remaining part of her contract — would be available at a later date.
In a statement issued by the athletics department, Whalen said, “I want to thank Mark and the University for giving me the opportunity to lead this program five years ago,” Whalen said in a statement. “It was an honor of a lifetime.”
“We did things the right way and created a lot of memories,” she added, “but now is the right time for me to step aside and return to being a proud alum. I look forward to supporting and cheering on the next head coach.”
A national search for the 13th head women’s basketball coach in the history of the Golden Gophers program will begin immediately. Asked whether he would like to hire a coach with experience, or whether he would consider hiring the first male to coach the Gophers’ women’s team, Coyle said, “We’re looking for the right fit within our culture.”
Whalen made a base salary of $547,000 with raises to $575,000 and $600,000 due the next two years. Coyle said Whalen will help with fundraising and efforts to build the school’s National, Image, Likeness opportunities — NCAA-sanctioned ways that student-athletes can earn money from sponsorships, advertising and appearances.
Coyle and the UMN Regents signed off on a one-year contract extension for Whalen almost exactly a year ago, despite the fact that her team finished below .500 in the Big Ten for the third consecutive year, and then lost almost her entire team to graduation (five) and the NCAA’s loosened transfer portal (six).
That spurred conversations between Coyle and Whalen during the men’s Final Four in New Orleans, where Whalen was announced as a member of the 2022 induction class for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. The AD stayed in touch throughout the season, then had a big meeting a few weeks ago, during which, it appears, the pair decided this would be Whalen’s last season.
Part of those conversations, Coyle said, was the major shift in college athletics brought by new NCAA transfer rules and the ability of student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness — which has added a new wrinkle to recruiting.
When asked how much of a factor that was for Whalen, and if in fact she did not like the changes in the game she made her own at Minnesota from 2000-04, Coyle said, “I think there were a lot of factors, but I don’t want to speak for Lindsay.”
Coyle was as close as reporters got Thursday.
This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.