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New LSU women's basketball head coach Kim Mulkey speaks at an introductory news conference for her at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Monday, April 26, 2021.

Kim Mulkey stepped behind a podium and looked at the crowd gathered before her. About 1,000 people had come to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, all of them wanting to see her introduction as LSU’s women’s basketball coach.

“I’ma take this damn mask off,” Mulkey said, smiling as she tossed the face covering off the podium, “because I have a lot to say.”

For the next 30 minutes Monday evening, Mulkey discussed her reasons for leaving Baylor, where she won three national championships, and her vision for LSU’s program, one that has experienced success but stalled in recent years.

Through Mulkey’s opening news conference, LSU demonstrated its commitment to women’s basketball. Never in any sport had LSU hired a coach with her pedigree, and never had LSU created such a grand introduction.

“To use a pandemic-appropriate metaphor,” LSU interim president Tom Galligan said, “today is a shot in the arm for LSU, and the reaction is positive.”

As people waited for Mulkey to walk onto the floor, a slideshow played on the giant video board. One picture showed her hoisting a national championship trophy. Another captured her celebrating the victory at the White House. The LSU band played fight songs. Gov. John Bel Edwards sat in the front row.

Mulkey entered at 5 p.m. through two columns of fire. She waved as the fans gave her a standing ovation, applauding a coach who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame next month with an introduction from Michael Jordan. Mulkey hugged her family. She and Edwards later pointed at each other.

“There are great coaches all over this country,” athletic director Scott Woodward said. “But it’s not every day you get to hire a champion.”

Mulkey said she received a phone call from Woodward about a week earlier. With LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Fargas set to resign, they spoke for 10 to 15 minutes about the job. Mulkey remembered Woodward told her, “Kim, it’s time to come home.”

The idea of returning to her roots as a Tickfaw native tugged on Mulkey. She had always called Louisiana home despite spending 21 years at Baylor. She missed Ponchatoula strawberries and crawfish. Her mother still lived in Tangipahoa Parish. She struggled to sleep as she contemplated the move.

“When your heart is invested in something so intently and so passionately, it's hard to let go,” Mulkey said. “But yet when your heart also says it's time to move on and accept your next challenge and it's at home, it just kept weighing on me.”

A few days after Mulkey’s conversation with Woodward, LSU sent her an offer. She mulled her choices as she spoke to her family.

Mike the Tiger, LSU AD Scott Woodward, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri and men's basketball coach Will Wade, among others, were all on hand to welcome Kim Mulkey as she officially arrived in Baton Rouge to take over as LSU's new women's basketball coach.

“Something felt right here,” Mulkey said. “And it just was icing on the cake that it was LSU. I would not have left Baylor for any other school except LSU.”

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Mulkey decided Sunday afternoon to accept the position, leaving a school she built into a national powerhouse. She will make about $2.5 million this year, The Advocate has learned, roughly the same amount as men’s basketball coach Will Wade.

“Yes, it did take some money to get me away from Baylor,” Mulkey said, “but that wasn’t the deciding factor.”

After saying goodbye to her players at Baylor, Mulkey arrived with her family Monday morning on a private plane. She toured LSU’s facilities throughout the day until the introductory event.

“I think it's something that probably is really going to rejuvenate her at this point in her career,” LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri, who coached Mulkey’s son, former shortstop Kramer Robertson, and greeted her at the airport. “I read her bio yesterday. It made me dizzy, her accomplishments. They made me look like a Little Leaguer compared to my bio. I've never seen anybody have so much success in a career.”

Mulkey talked for half an hour from the podium. She mentioned the influence former gymnastics coach D-D Breaux had on the hiring process, encouraged fans to buy season tickets and said, “I can now tell Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes and people don't look at me like I lost my mind.”

Once Mulkey finished her remarks and answered the final question, she walked back out the tunnel with her family. Now that the celebration has ended, she will have to pack her belongings and empty her office at Baylor.

Then she will turn her attention to LSU’s program, which hasn’t reached the Final Four since 2008. Five players entered the NCAA transfer portal since the end of the season. The Tigers missed the last four NCAA tournaments.

“I don't want you to be misled that you think I can take a team and overnight play for championships,” Mulkey said. “But I can take a team and make them better each day.”

Mulkey will bring Baylor assistants Johnny Derrick, Jennifer Roberts, Jordin Westbrook, Kaylin Rice and Daphne Mitchell with her. She preached patience as they build the program, but her vision for what LSU can accomplish was clear.

In the midst of her introductory remarks, Mulkey asked the five LSU players who sat in front of her to stand up, turn around and look at the banners hanging in the rafters. They saw five Final Fours.

"Nowhere on there does it say national champion," Mulkey said, and she banged her hand twice against the podium. "That’s what I came here to do."

Advocate columnist Scott Rabalais contributed to this report.

Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com