Coach G's heart already deep in Texas
It has been nearly five months since Gail Ann Goestenkors, who built Duke into one of the greatest women's basketball programs today, arrived in Austin to revive one of women's college basketball's foundation programs - the Texas Longhorns.
"To be a part of the excellence that is the University of Texas is great," said Coach G. "This is an incredible challenge for me . . . and it is an honor to follow Jody (Conradt), who was one of the greatest coaches in the game. This (the UT women's basketball program) is her child. Being the one selected to succeed her was tremendous. Jody has been wonderful me.
"I have been overwhelmed by everyone here since I arrived. Everyone has been so nice. All of the coaches and the players have made me feel most welcome. I was away with USA Basketball a lot this summer, so when I received text messages from the players asking when I was going to be back in Austin . . . well . . . that certainly made me feel great.
Goestenkors, who guided the Blue Devils to 13 consecutive NCAA tournaments - four Final Four appearances (two NCAA title games) and 10 straight trips to the Sweet 16 - won seven regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference titles and ACC Coach of the Year Awards. She also garnered 12 National Coach of the Year honors.
Coach G, who won 80 percent of her games in 15 years at the Durham, N.C. school, says she already has fallen in love with Austin . . . even with the traffic.
"The little town I lived in when I was at Duke didn't have a rush hour," she explained. "It was a rush minute."
The native to Waterford, Mich. who was a NAIA All-America at Saginaw Valley State admitted that her decision to leave Duke to come to Texas was the most difficult of her life.
"I had been so much a part of that community," Goestenkors began, recalling her Duke experience. "This decision dealt with matters of the heart, not business. I felt I needed a challenge, an opportunity to grow. Coming to Texas gave me that. There's a lot of power here.
"If you ask 10 coaches what the best job in women's college basketball is nine, nine-and-a-half or even 10 will say Texas."
Asked if she had a "Should I have done this moment" in the last four months, Coach G said, "Never."
Women's Athletics Director Chris Plonsky, who noted that selecting a coach to take the reins of a sports program was the most important thing administrators do, said of her new basketball coach, "Gail Goetenkors' legacy continues to build. She is devoted to young people and committed to their growth and development as individuals. I knew she was a perfect fit for us.
"The University of Texas is a special institution and we believe it attracts people with good hearts and great minds. It is a special place for women's athletics."
Known as a top-flight recruiter during her days at Duke with national top-five recruiting classes from 1999-2005, Coach G said that the "recruiting" she got during her visit to Austin to interview had a major impact on her decision to come to UT.
"Coach Brown, Coach (Augie) Garrido and Coach (Rick) Barnes were all so wonderful, spending time with me and talking to me about Texas," Goestenkors said. "You know Rick can talk . . . I think we talked for about four hours. Bev Kearney also took time to visit with me."
Barnes told the Austin American-Statesman, "I really wanted Gail here. I think she will create a dynasty."
She won't do it alone, of course.
In addition to getting a talented head coach, Texas added talented assistants with the staff Goestenkors has assembled.
Former University of Kentucky head coach (2003-07) Mickie DeMoss came out of retirement for this opportunity. Shaeeta Williams, who had been on the Duke staff, and LaKale Malone, assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator at Nebraska, also joined Coach G's team.
"Mickie is a great coach with a wealth of experience," Goestenkors said. "LaKale is an up and coming star. Shaeeta was in my first recruiting class at Duke. She is a highly motivated individual.
Gale Valley, who spent the last 15 years with Goestenkors at Duke, also made the move to Austin.
"Gale is a tremendous teacher and recruiter," Goestenkors said. "She knows me. She is a trusted friend . . . and she will be an integral part of rebuilding the great tradition of Texas basketball."
Goestenkors said that there was not one thing or one person who got her to make the decision to come to Texas, although Garrido's words struck home for her.
"He said winning a national title at Texas comes on a different stage," she recalled.
While she preps for the beginning of practice next month, Goestenkors has one bit of individual work she must do.
"The 'Eyes of Texas . . . I'm working on that," she said, laughing. "On my cell phone, they have the 'Eyes of Texas" as my ring tone. I know I'll get it."