What happens when a woman takes power?
What happens when she won’t back down?
What happens when a woman takes power?
What happens when she wears the crown?
—Alexandra Olsavsky, songwriter
Rare are times when you feel you are present at a pivotal moment for a school, a program, a sport. Monday was one of those moments as Kim Mulkey was introduced to an adoring crowd as LSU’s new women’s basketball coach.
It was quite the scene on the floor of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, where LSU went to the unprecedented step of hosting an introductory news conference right on the hardwood. The school never put on anything this lavish when bringing in a new coach before, the implication that it had never made a hire this big before.
There was an LSU band, Gov. John Bel Edwards and a couple thousand fans, family and friends — a number that included former LSU players like Temeka Johnson, Quianna Chaney and Jeanne Kenney. Over the court, the video screen played before the event a rolling montage of Mulkey at Baylor cutting down nets, lifting trophies and meeting with presidents at the White House, the implication that she will soon be doing the same at LSU.
She had the few current players in attendance she’s inheriting turn and gaze up at the five Women’s Final Four banners hanging from the PMAC catwalk from LSU’s five straight appearances from 2004-08. The 2005 Final Four ended in a loss to Mulkey’s Baylor team en route to the Lady Bears’ first NCAA title.
“Nowhere on there does it say, ‘National Champion,’ ” said Mulkey, who is intimately familiar with the phrase. “That’s what I came here to do.”
What happens when she sets the beat?
What happens when she bows to nobody?
What happens when she stands on her own two feet?
Yes, LSU wanted the soon-to-be Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer to restore a winning aura to the program, but it goes deeper than that.
Against the backdrop of Monday’s festivities was another lawsuit filed against the school by women who say they were sexually assaulted on LSU’s campus and that the school failed them.
Kim Mulkey's introductory press conference in her new role as LSU's women's basketball coach had a bit of everything, and of course that inclu…
Unprompted, Mulkey took a moment to make what seemed to be an oblique reference to the scandals embroiling her new school.
“I didn’t just come here to win championships,” she said, “but to make an impact at an institution that needs something positive at the right time.”
Mulkey qualifies. She could have so easily stayed entrenched where she was at Baylor, where in 21 years she built what stands as one of the tip-top women’s programs in the nation, along with UConn, Stanford and South Carolina.
But her home state beckoned the girl who never completely left Tickfaw, Louisiana. Ponchatoula strawberries called. Crawfish called. Home and one more grand challenge in a career overflowing with “Wait, one person did all this?” achievements was too enticing to resist. Though she said she took several tear-filled days to decide whether to leave Baylor, she admitted LSU athletic director Scott Woodward basically had her at hello with their first 10-minute phone call.
“All he said was, ‘Kim, I'd like you to come home,’ ” Mulkey said. “We were on the same page in that it wasn't just about basketball.”
Mulkey’s move allows LSU to make a statement — at least about its commitment to winning again in women’s basketball.
The significance of Mulkey’s arrival was not lost on former LSU gymnastics coach D-D Breaux. She’s a kindred spirit with Mulkey, Louisiana women both full of spice and determination and forceful wills.
“It’s pivotal,” Breaux said after watching the proceedings from the back of the arena. “This is a huge commitment to women’s athletics. A lot of heads are on a swivel on this one saying, ‘What?!?’ ”
With her pointed reference to LSU’s championship-less Final Four banners, Mulkey was informing everyone that she isn’t returning home to Louisiana to downshift toward retirement. Mulkey asked for patience, but it will be hard for fans to rein in the unbridled optimism that comes with her arrival.
The Tigers went 9-13 this season. Baylor went 7-20 the season before Mulkey arrived. In her first year, the Bears went 21-9 and made their first NCAA tournament appearance. They never won fewer than 24 games in a season after that.
Kim Mulkey is LSU's new women's basketball coach, and she wasted little time getting reacquainted with the flagship program in her native Louisiana.
She asked for people to buy season tickets and announced that LSU took deposits on 600 season tickets just Monday. They’re not coming to watch the Tigers lose. Nor does she expect that they will.
More than that, though, Mulkey brings an exacting standard that will reinvigorate the entire athletic department. If there is something that isn’t the way she wants it, she will say it, and if it requires funding that isn’t there, she is likely as anything to raise the money herself.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Mulkey said. But no one who watched Monday’s event was left with any impression other than winning, at a high level, is about to happen again for LSU women’s basketball.
LSU fans, and the whole country, are about to find out.
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 Cent…