When Scott Woodward left a good job as athletic director at deep-welled Texas A&M to return to LSU — the Aggies don’t have deep pockets, they have deep oil wells of cash — it was for one simple reason:
To come home.
When Woodward lured long-time Baylor coach and women’s basketball legend Kim Mulkey to LSU, where she will be formally introduced Monday afternoon, the allure was basically the same.
All manner of folks have asked the legitimate question, “Why would Mulkey leave Baylor?” She has built something there that never existed before, making a perennial loser into a perennial national power. She’s the Joanna Gaines (and Chip Gaines for that matter) of Baylor sports. The queen of Waco, Texas.
The reason, those who know Mulkey say, really the only reason, is home. Her parents still live in the area. Louisiana never stopped being home in her heart.
LSU was never Mulkey’s home before, except on the weekends it was her home base for watching son Kramer Robertson play shortstop for the Tigers a few seasons ago. She went from four straight state titles at Hammond to three national championships as a player and assistant at Louisiana Tech, then the power women’s college program in the state. From there she went to Baylor in 2000 and made history with three national championships won there.
But LSU fits the bill, geographically and resource-wise, if the desire is to get as close as possible back to family and friends while still having the chance to succeed at a high level. Tickfaw, where Mulkey grew up, is well within Baton Rouge’s orbit. You could walk from Kim Mulkey Drive there to North Stadium Drive on LSU’s campus, the front door of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
It is there Mulkey, with the name of fellow Naismith Hall of Fame coach Sue Gunter looking down from the catwalk, will try to carve a piece of history unique to her game.
She is on some pretty amazing short lists already. The only person to win women’s basketball national titles as a player, assistant and head coach. One of three men or women to win a national title as a player and coach, along with Bob Knight and Dean Smith. And one of four coaches along with Geno Auriemma (11), Pat Summitt (eight) and Tara VanDerveer (three) to win at least three NCAA women’s titles.
But no one in the history of the women’s game has won national championships at two schools. That would be Mulkey’s charge and ultimate expectation at LSU, a school that made it to five straight Women’s Final Fours from 2004-08 but has yet to win a game there.
Once we learn of her contract details, we will know how financially weighty a hire this was for Woodward and LSU at a challenging financial time. Mulkey reportedly was making $2.27 million per year at Baylor — a school that likely would have offered her more to stay if it could have. One doesn’t expect she is coming to give LSU a home-state discount. There are those who will balk, loudly, at paying so much for a women’s basketball coach, questioning the relevancy, the entertainment value of the sport.
But LSU’s goal should be to win championships in every sport, especially a high-profile sport like women’s basketball in which it has enjoyed great success in the past. Overall, LSU needs this win desperately in the wake of its still ongoing Title IX scandal. It needs to be able to say to the world, “We are making changes and making a huge commitment to winning in women’s basketball.” If Mulkey is willing to hitch her considerable star to LSU’s wagon, it could be significantly symbolic for the entire school.
Plainly put, there has never been a coach LSU has hired in any sport with a better résumé than Mulkey. Nick Saban, when he came, was a guy with a lot of potential but only middling success at Michigan State. Skip Bertman was an assistant coach at Miami. Pat Henry was a junior-college track coach in Texas.
All those coaches made LSU into a national champion in their respective sports. I doubt Mulkey would be coming home to begin throttling down into semi-retirement. If you’ve seen her coach, witnessed the Saban-like intensity on the sideline, you know that isn’t likely in her DNA.
Louisiana is home for her, yes. But so is winning. Mulkey loves both. For that, LSU should ultimately be quite grateful.