To expect Washington to perform anywhere near the level it has over the past couple years is as unfair as it is naive.
Assuming Jody Wynn’s emotions resemble that of a typical human, I imagine she had two reactions to being hired as the new Washington women’s basketball coach.
The first, in my mind at least, came when she got word she landed the biggest job of her career and screamed “Oh my God!”
The second, I assume, came when she realized the act she had to follow and muttered “oh … crap.”
The Huskies, after all, are coming off the most successful and entertaining two-year stretch in program history. They made the Final Four in 2016, sold out Hec Ed in 2017, and produced the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer in Kelsey Plum.
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Expectations for this team shot from the ground floor to the top of the Space Needle in 15 months flat. How could Wynn step into this job and not feel a few extra pounds of pressure?
“Someone told me once to never take over a program that’s already at the top,” said a smiling Wynn, who comes to UW after eight years at Long Beach State. “Maybe they didn’t tell me hard enough.”
Whether it’s with money, lifestyle, or their favorite team’s success, people tend to get spoiled when they get used to a certain way. And one could imagine fans feeling disappointed if the Huskies’ win total dips over the next couple of years.
But here’s some unsolicited advice for UW die-hards as Wynn replaces Mike Neighbors: Have patience.
To expect Washington to perform anywhere near the level it has over the past couple years is as unfair as it is naive. The team loses the reigning National Player of the Year in Plum and a second-team All-American in Chantel Osahor.
Even if Neighbors had turned down the Arkansas offer and stayed in Seattle, he still would have had trouble guiding the Huskies to their fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance. In fact, the program’s future may very well be brighter with Wynn at the helm.
Unlike Neighbors did before he took over the Huskies in 2013, Wynn has head coaching experience at the Division I level. She was hired at Long Beach State a month after the 49ers finished 8-21, then ended up leading the team to three straight 20-win seasons and their first NCAA tournament appearance in 25 years.
And she didn’t get there with the run-and-gun, practice-once-a-week, shoot-a-three-or-you’re-out-of-the-game-style that Neighbors implemented. She did it with a full-court-pressing, charge-taking, you’re-probably-going-to-hate-practice style she can call her own.
Citing “Hoosiers” as her favorite flick, Wynn seems to have an approach that would make Norman Dale proud. Unfortunately, she doesn’t start her tenure at UW with a Jimmy Chitwood.
But that’s OK.
Over the past couple of years, much of the UW women’s basketball team’s charm has been rooted in the fact that nobody saw that run coming. Plum was supposed to be good, but not one of the best to ever play the game. Osahor had potential, but wasn’t expected to be the unscoutable force she developed into.
From the perspective of the country’s best recruits, Washington wasn’t even in the same stratosphere as the UConns, Baylors, South Carolinas or Stanfords of the world. But good fortune found the Huskies, and their fans embraced the ride.
The way I see it, Washington women’s hoops is like the PGA in the post-Tiger era. It will probably never quite be the same, but it can still be really good.
One thing stressed in Wynn’s introductory news conference Monday is that she seems to be in it for the long haul.
Seattle is a destination, not a springboard to something better.
And if Wynn is able to develop UW’s program the way she did Long Beach State, the Huskies will be in the NCAA tourney for years on end. But these things take time.
Wynn said Monday that the Pac-12 was the best conference in the country. You could tell it has been a lifelong dream for her to coach at this level.
For years, she paid her dues, then UW athletic director Jennifer Cohen gave her an opportunity.
And for now, fans should give her a break.