It can’t be that simple, can it? That new LSU women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey saw a school she could help, in a place she wanted to be, and decided that after 21 years at Baylor, it was time to make a move.
The move. The only one away from Baylor she was ever likely to make. To the major program closest to her hometown, Tickfaw. The town a part of her never really left.
For some fellow folks in sports media, that explanation doesn’t wash. It’s too simple. It’s too corny. It’s too, well, let’s be honest, ridiculous to outside eyes, to think someone would want to leave a great program that they built from nothing and move back to backward, backwater Louisiana.
For ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, the reason Mulkey left Baylor wasn’t a chance for a new start in her old backyard, but politics. Wilbon, appearing April 26 on “Pardon the Interruption” partner Tony Kornheiser’s podcast, suggested Mulkey’s political views would get her crossways with her players at Baylor and spurred her to bolt for LSU. The homepage of Kornheiser’s podcast reads “Kim Mulkey leaving Baylor for OSU,” whoever the heck OSU is, but we all make mistakes.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Mac Engel wrote April 27 that Mulkey left because of a relationship with Baylor’s administration that went stale after the school changed athletic directors, and because of how it handled the Art Briles ouster amid allegations of violence against women by its football players.
Engel wrote sources told him Mulkey went to Baylor after LSU offered its job, but that current AD Mack Rhoades and Baylor president Linda Livingstone declined to try to match LSU’s offer. Mulkey earned about $2.27 million per year at Baylor and will start at LSU at around $2.5 million. I find it hard to believe Baylor let Mulkey walk over such relatively little money.
I know about as much of Mulkey’s politics as I do those of LSU men’s coach Will Wade, or of Mulkey’s predecessor, Nikki Fargas, which is to say very little. I do know Mulkey’s team visited the White House after winning the 2019 NCAA championship, presenting then-President Donald Trump with a basketball, a hat and a Baylor jersey. Baylor’s players cheered when Trump put the hat on.
If there were Baylor players who were upset about going to the White House, it didn’t appear to have an impact on Mulkey’s final Baylor team.
The Bears went 28-3 this season, losing to UConn in the Elite Eight, thanks in part to an egregious no-call on the Huskies at game’s end. If Mulkey had a rift with players on her team, you didn't see it in their effort. You also wouldn’t have seen someone like former five-star center Hannah Gusters transfer to LSU after playing her first year at Baylor in a reserve role.
As for Mulkey’s relationship with the higher-ups at Baylor, 21 years is a long time to spend working anywhere, especially when the leaders who hired you are no longer in place. Aggravations and complaints are likely to grow for anyone. But Engel suggests Mulkey was unhappy that Baylor’s football and newly crowned NCAA men’s championship basketball program had eclipsed her program.
If that’s the case, she definitely came to the wrong place. At LSU, women’s basketball currently ranks behind football, baseball, men’s basketball, gymnastics and softball, at least, in terms of popularity. And no championships Mulkey could bring LSU will ever make women’s basketball here bigger than football. Being from these parts, I’m pretty sure Mulkey knows that.
The insinuation from commentary like this is that there must be some underlying, overarching reason for Mulkey to leave Baylor for LSU. To them, it can’t possibly be that she just chose the program closest to home that gave her the best chance to still be a national contender.
Like many of you, I’m from here. I’ve lived here all my life. As such, I’m fully aware of the problems and handicaps our state faces.
But we are also a state filled with passionate, hard-working, kind-hearted, intelligent people. People Mulkey wanted to return to while still having a chance to win big.
The implication by outsiders is, as my friend and witty local sports talk show host Charles Hanagriff said Friday, that we can’t have nice things. To them, it can’t just be that Mulkey felt the tug of her heartstrings. It must be something else. It’s an insidious, insulting suggestion.
Often, as the Occam’s razor principle suggests, the simplest explanation is most likely correct. Maybe it wasn’t politics, on the national or on-campus scale, that prompted Mulkey to leave Baylor for LSU.
Maybe she saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, an opportunity only LSU could fulfill. To some folks, the simple explanation will always seem implausible.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.