During this off-season that began earnestly in March, nine of 17 Division I women’s college basketball head coaching hires have been Black, and eight of those nine have been Black women. Additionally, 25 of nearly 50 MBB Division I HC hires have also been Black.
Danielle O’Banion last week accepted the Loyola University Maryland job after three seasons as a Gopher assistant, her second stint—she was on staff from 2002 to 2007.
O’Banion was a Kent State head coach (2008-12) and has held assistant jobs at Harvard and Memphis. “We don’t get those second opportunities” to be head coaches, she said in an MSR phone interview.
She was honored at the 2016 NCAA Final Four with the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association for her successful fight against cancer. Now cancer free, O’Banion was diagnosed with Stage 2 lymphoma cancer in 2014 and underwent chemotherapy, not missing any games during her treatments.
On her new position, she said, “I can honestly say that I was not actively looking to do anything besides get really good this season at the ‘U’. They [Loyola] reached out and I reached back. We started a conversation, and it became more and more clear that there was a good fit between Loyola and myself.”
According to The Undefeated, 51% of men coaches and 47% of women coaches hired thus far in 2021 have been Black.
New Minnesota Coach Ben Johnson recently hired as assistants Jason Kemp and Dave Thorson from William & Mary and Colorado State respectively. “It was important to me to have guys that I know,” Johnson told us.
“They understand what I am about, my style and my personality. When I started to go into this whole staff [hiring] situation…on my list first, trying to find guys I had a previous relationship with. That was important,” Johnson said, also stressing the importance of trust, teaching ability, and ability to recruit.
Thorson once coached Johnson when he coached at Minneapolis De La Salle High School. He worked as an assistant at Drake and Colorado State and got his college coaching start on Clem Haskins’ Minnesota staff in the 1990s.
“He changed my life,” said Thorson of Haskins. “I will be forever grateful to him.”
Johnson and Kemp have known each other for several years. Kemp started his coaching career at Minnesota State Moorhead and also held stints at North Dakota State, Toledo and Ohio, and the last two seasons at William & Mary.
“Coach Johnson has worked his way up the ranks and more than qualifies to do this job,” said Kemp.
Asked about this uptick in hiring Black coaches, Kemp said, “[Johnson] having this opportunity is going to open more doors for people like me and other coaches who previously haven’t have that chance.”
“Representation matters,” noted South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley. Now in her 20th overall season, Staley has led her teams to three Final Fours in six years and won the 2017 national title.
“There are a lot of jobs out there that can give Black women an opportunity. Bring them in. Interview them. If you don’t hire them, let them know why,” urged Staley.
Said O’Banion, “We’ll continue to see [more Black coaches hired].”
It is not only important to hire Black coaches, but also to give them the necessary support. “I’m so excited about Loyola because it is a great fit and there is that support system,” said O’Banion.
“Some people want to win the press conference and then let people just kind of fend for themselves. I would encourage and invite athletic directors…to really rally around the coach, regardless of what that person looks like.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.