Joanne Boyle To Virginia: Initial Reactions

It's still technically possible that this post is premature.  I certainly hope it turns out to be.  But if the saying about smoke and fire is true, we're all choking on lots and lots of smoke.  There are reports from official Virginia area news sources, SBN blogs, and finally a reliable Cal source that Joanne Boyle has moved on.  After reports surfaced that Boyle had been hired last Tuesday, Cal fans were given brief hope when Boyle was reached for a statement and said "I am not the Virginia head coach."  Of course, it doesn’t take an English major to analyze how little that statement said.  It was a true statement on Tuesday while Boyle was presumably contemplating the offer, but it doesn't appear to be a true statement any more.

Boyle’s departure comes at a very fragile time for the women’s basketball program.  2010-11 was easily the most disappointing year of Boyle’s tenure, and it ended with the transfer of DeNesha Stallworth, Cal’s most talented post player.  For the first time in 5 years there is uncertainty surrounding the direction and stability of the team, arguably even before Boyle decided to leave.

Sandy Barbour’s task is clear:  Find a coach (quickly, if possible) willing and capable of keeping everybody else on board.  As rough as last season was, Cal should be a pretty attractive job for a number of candidates.  It’s possible that the Bears have the most returning and incoming talent of any open position in the NCAA, but that’s only relevant if the new coach can convince every player – from incoming freshman on up – to recommit to the program.

I admit to having mixed feelings about Boyle’s departure.  On one hand, Cal was lucky to even have her as long as they did.  Boyle made a leap of faith to travel 3,000 miles away from home, an area that saw her learn and excel as both a coach and a player.  And she did that to take on the job of rebuilding a program that had accomplished nothing in more than a decade while sitting in the shadow of a rival that sucked up every bit of attention and prestige that west coach women’s basketball had to offer.  Cal women’s basketball hadn’t had a winning record in thirteen years!

And just two years later she was offered what every Cal fan had assumed was her dream job.  When I heard that Duke had offered her the head coaching position I immediately gave up hope and assumed she was gone.  And I wouldn’t have blamed her for a second.  How can you pass up your alma mater, the school that taught you how to play and how to coach?  And, not to mention, was an NCAA power that has recorded multiple Final Four appearances?

But she stayed, and then she led the team to its first ever Sweet 16, and then she brought in a seven player, top 5 recruiting class.  Cal fans were walking on the clouds.  Evidently Coach Boyle didn’t need to go to Duke to coach a power program – she was building her own power program in Berkeley!

How can I feel just the slightest bit let down by a coach leaving when I wasn’t bothered when I thought she was gone three years ago?  Six years of program building is more than enough – she’s paid her dues in Berkeley and doesn’t owe us anything.  For one thing, after turning down Duke you couldn’t help but think that she was committed to Cal for the very long term.  Unless UConn or Tennessee came calling she wasn’t going to receive a more attractive offer.  Things change quickly, I guess.  And leaving this year, after everything that happened?  I can’t help but feel like she’s leaving after the first truly tough year she's faced in Berkeley.

Regardless of the exact circumstances of her departure, her legacy will be that of a coach that resurrected a program that was an afterthought.  If it wasn't for Joanne Boyle I wouldn't even be here talking about women's basketball - I didn't spend much time following the Bears when they put up year after year of 4-14 Pac-10 records.  Four straight NCAA tournaments, a Sweet 16 appearance, an NIT title, actual wins over Stanford, and some of the most exciting, dynamic, admirable stars the program has ever produced:  That will be Joanne Boyle's legacy.

My only hope now is that Sandy Barbour can make a hire fully capable of building on that legacy.

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