Coaching changes, conflict liven up Virginia women's college basketball

  • Pin It
Dennis Wolff, Virginia Tech's women's basketball coach

Dennis Wolff, Virginia Tech's women's basketball coach (Rob Ostermaier, Daily Press / April 15, 2011)

Old Dominion, Virginia and Virginia Tech used to be staples of the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

Six times from 1994-2005, all three made the field. In 1997, ODU reached the national championship game, Virginia the Sweet 16. One year later, the Lady Monarchs, Cavaliers and Hokies advanced to the second round.

This season, none of the trio made the NCAA field. ODU has missed the last three tournaments, Virginia Tech the last five, Virginia four of the last eight.

Hence, a radically altered state coaching landscape as the women's hoops world gathered here this weekend for Boo Williams' annual spring tournament.

Virginia nudged Hall of Famer Debbie Ryan out and hired the impeccably credentialed Joanne Boyle.

Virginia Tech discarded Beth Dunkenberger and appointed the intriguing Dennis Wolff.

ODU declined to extend Wendy Larry's contract — expiration date of 2012 — overtly threatening an icon once thought untouchable.

All of which confirms that win-big-or-else isn't unique to football and men's basketball.

All of which should provide serious pyrotechnics next season, and beyond.

Since the exit ramps had been greased for Ryan and Dunkenberger, let's start instead with the sudden spat between Larry and her new boss.

Wood Selig succeeded Jim Jarrett as ODU's athletic director in June. He's younger, more energetic, and yes, probably more demanding than Jarrett.

Moreover, as a former member of the NCAA women's tournament selection committee, Selig understands the game's dynamics better than most. So the Lady Monarchs' decline is not lost on him.

ODU reached 17 consecutive NCAA tournaments before the current three-year drought and lost five straight first-round NCAA games from 2003-07. Most telling of the Lady Monarchs' national profile: their inability to win away from the Constant Center.

Since losing the '97 title game to Tennessee, ODU has won 11 NCAA tournament games. But 10 were on its home floor. The Lady Monarchs are 1-10 in their last 11 tournament games away from Norfolk.

Larry, 559-203 in 24 seasons on Hampton Boulevard, considers this untenable, and Selig concurs. Failing to win a conference as thin as the Colonial Athletic Association three years running shouldn't happen to a program with ODU's heritage and resources.

Selig had every reason to challenge Larry, and rest assured, he intended that conversation remain private. But when Larry went public to Virginian-Pilot reporter Chris Carlson, the gloves were off, prompting Selig to reveal that no contract extension was forthcoming.

The parties appear to have called a truce — wise move there — but only a landmark 2011-12 might spare Larry's job.

The tension between Ryan and U.Va.'s administration never was evident to outsiders until last month, when she reluctantly surrendered a position she'd held for 34 years. But internally, the die was cast.

From 1987-97, Ryan guided the Cavaliers to 11 consecutive Sweet 16s and three Final Fours. They won six straight ACC regular-season titles from 1991-96 and reached six conference tournament championship games from 1987-94.

  • Pin It