Lady Tigers' program history, long malaise made Radakovich's decision inevitable

The Clemson Sports Blog

Women's Basketball - Itoro Coleman and Nikki Dixon

Photo by Mark Crammer

Women's Basketball - Itoro Coleman and Nikki Dixon

As a player, Itoro Umoh Coleman led the Clemson women's basketball program to two ACC titles, and helped make the Lady Tiger program a fixture on the national stage.

She always believed it was just a matter of time before she would do the same as head coach at her alma mater.

Time ran out on Coleman's run as Clemson's head coach on Friday, when, a day after a 9-21 season ended with a loss to N.C. State in the first round of the ACC tournament, she was relieved of her duties by new Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich.

It ended a brief three-year period as head coach for Coleman, who served five seasons as a Clemson assistant under Jim Davis and Cristy McKinney before leaving for a three-year stint as an assistant at Penn State.

From the start, there were encouraging signs that Coleman would be the one to turn Clemson's program around and reclaim the Lady Tigers' stature as one of the best teams in one of the nation's best women's basketball conferences.

But recruiting success - of which Coleman and her staff had their share - never translated to the bottom line. She presided over three straight losing seasons, with records of 10-20, 6-22 and 9-21, and her teams won just 10 of 48 ACC games.

The program appeared to enter the 2012-13 season with a brighter future and plenty of momentum, buoyed by a nationally-ranked recruiting class. But the team struggled in the early season, and during the semester break, four players left the program. Three transferred, including highly-rated recruits Jonquel Jones and Danaeja Grant, and another dropped basketball for medical reasons.

When a round of illness swept the through the team, the Lady Tigers played several games with just six players dressed for competition, and regularly had only two available substitutes.

The result was predictable, as Clemson scrapped and clawed to stay in games, but then regularly faded in the closing minutes. In their ACC tournament loss to N.C. State on Thursday, Clemson was outscored 16-1 down the stretch.

On Friday, Radakovich announced a national search for Coleman's successor. The new coach will be charged with turning around a program that has languished for more than a decade.

From 1995-96 until 2001-02, the Lady Tigers played in seven straight NCAA tournaments under Davis. The program began to slip at the end of Davis' tenure, with a 39-47 overall record and a 14-32 ACC mark over his final three seasons.

McKinney, hired as Davis' replacement after a successful stint at Rice, never found traction with the Clemson program. She coached five seasons, never had a winning record either overall or in the ACC, and finished with a 59-93 overall mark, including a 16-54 record in conference play.

The Lady Tigers' extended malaise has been marked by few victories that could be considered upsets. Coleman's team provided an exception last season when it went on the road and knocked off a 21st-ranked North Carolina team at Chapel Hill.

Before that, Clemson had lost 52 straight games against ranked teams. Since beating Rutgers in 2003-04 - Davis' next-to-last season - the Lady Tigers are 1-63 against nationally-ranked opponents.

History was already working against Coleman when she took the Clemson job.

The last three seasons made Radakovich's decision inevitable.

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