Coach Peck made her mark in both college and pro hoops

WBNA 20in20nobylineFor 20 weeks, to commemorate the WNBA’s 20th season (the MSR having covered each season), the MSR sports section will feature a column or article on the W in our “20 in 20” series.

This week: history overlooked


During the course of its 20-year history, 31 of the 75 WNBA all-time head coaches have been Black. This includes 13 Black females, four of whom once played in the league as well.

Carolyn Peck
Carolyn Peck (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Carolyn Peck did her last ESPN telecast May 31, after which she returned to collegiate coaching as associate head coach at Vanderbilt, where Peck once starred as a player (1985-1988) and earned a communications degree.

Orlando in April 1998 was awarded a WNBA franchise, and three months later, in July 1998, Peck was hired as the franchise’s first head coach and general manager. But as the then-Purdue coach, Peck had guided the club to an Elite Eight appearance in her first year and wanted another year to guide the Boilermakers perhaps farther.

Which she did, as Purdue went 28-1 and won the 1999 NCAA Division I women’s basketball national championship. Peck still remains the first Black woman or man ever to do so thus far in women’s hoops.

The MSR recently asked current Indiana Fever Head Coach Stephanie White, who played for Peck at Purdue, if her former coach’s double-history mark in both college and pro ball has been overlooked or underappreciated. “Sometimes people forget about you when you step away from the game, forget about what you accomplished, the things that you’re done,” answered White. “To accomplish what she did at such a young age I think was incredible.”

In Peck’s three seasons as the club’s first person in charge, the Miracle (now the Connecticut Sun) barely missed the playoffs in her first year (1999) and qualified in 2000 but lost to Cleveland in three games. She also coached league all-stars Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Nykesha Sales, Sheri Sam and Shannon Johnson.

Peck then returned to college as head coach at Florida for five seasons (2002-07). After she was fired in 2007, Peck was hired at ESPN as a college and pro basketball analyst.

When we earlier talked to Peck for a WNBA season preview article and reminded her of her mark in history, she said, “My stint in the WNBA was very short,” downplaying her contributions to the league’s early years.

“It was fun to me to watch as a coach, from the outside looking in, in its first year in 1997, and thinking that there is an opportunity now for women to coach at the professional level in a [U.S.] professional basketball league,” she continued. “This early in my career I would not only get the chance to coach but also be the general manager. It was a tremendous experience for me.”

“I think one of the things I learned from her was her communication style,” said White of Peck. “She wasn’t a dictator. She allowed us a voice. Whether she listened to us or not, she at least allowed us a voice. She wasn’t one of those coaches who acted like she knew everything.”

As a result, when White last month accepted the Vanderbilt head coaching job, who better as first chair than Peck, whose youthful appearance belies her vast coaching experience. “For her to be back in the game, and for me to be able to have her there beside me, somebody I know that I can trust and share the same vision, I’m really honored,” said White.

“She is one of those people who made a lot of different contributions,” added White of Peck. “Now she has the opportunity to do it again in impacting young people’s lives. If she can make half the impact on lives at Vanderbilt as she did [at Purdue and Florida], then that’s her legacy.”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.