Lack of women coaches due to ‘leaks’ in coaching pipeline

Lynx coaching staff (l-r) Katie Smith, Rebekkah Brunson, Cheryl Reeve, Plenette Pearson 
Photo courtesy of Twitter 

This year’s coronavirus outbreak didn’t stop the typical off-season firing and hiring of college coaches, but it did produce since March an unprecedented wave of Blacks hired as women’s basketball coaches. Also, all but one of the 15 Blacks hired as head coaches over the off-season are females.

“I wanted to be a coach since I was a kid,” said Kara Lawson, who’s in her first head coaching job at Duke as the first Black head coach in school history. “I’m really happy for the opportunities to succeed at the highest level.”

Florida A&M’s Shalon Pillow added, “This is not an opportunity I take lightly, because there have been so many coaches who don’t get this opportunity, especially coaches of color. I know that I have a responsibility to represent as well because that would open up more opportunities for coaches down the line.”

Yet, as Black coaches remain in relatively low numbers compared to their White counterparts, the latest Tucker Center’s Women’s College Coaching Report Card points out that men still outnumber women as women’s college team coaches.
Women overall hold 1,501 of 3,555 Division I head coaching positions across 32 conferences (42%), 0.2 percent higher than in 2018-19; but men still hold the majority (58%) of these jobs.

“We did all coaching positions” such as head coach, associate HC, assistant coach, director of operations, graduate assistant and others, said Tucker Center Director Nicole LaVoi in an MSR phone interview shortly after the report card was released last month.

The report “reinforces the idea that as the [coaching] position becomes more powerful and lucrative from grad assistant to assistant, to associate to head coach, we have fewer women,” she noted. “There’s something at the assistant coach level where women are dropping out to a greater degree than men. We need to understand why.”

The data for the 2019-20 report was collected between October 2019 and January 2020 by examining school athletic departments’ websites and reviewing coaching staff rosters. It also looked at “leaks” in the coaching pipeline that are having an adverse effect on hiring more women and coaches of color.

Photo courtesy of Twitter  Duke WBB HC Kara Lawson 

“If we are going to make any societal change, we have to understand at one point in the pipeline [why] we are losing women so we can develop policies and programs to help these women coaches,” LaVoi stressed.

The Tucker Center report, however, did not take into account the more recent hiring of Black coaches. “We will pick up on the hires of Lawson and [Notre Dame’s Niele] Ivey, and all the other women [of color] who were hired after December of 2019,” explained LaVoi.

The need for more Black women coaches isn’t just at the college level, but at the pro level as well. There were no WNBA Black female head coaches this season, and only three Black females were on the two teams’ coaching staffs that played for this year’s title—Noelle Quinn for champion Seattle, and Las Vegas’ Vickie Johnson (a former HC) and Tanisha Wright, all former WNBA players. Lawson and Ivey were among several Black female assistant coaches on NBA teams.

Minnesota this season had two Black females and former Lynx players as assistants: Plenette Pierson and Rebekkah Brunson.

“We need to work with the teams more on when there are openings,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told the MSR before the Finals last month.

Next: Several Black coaches talk about their long journeys to their present jobs.