To be fair, the starting circumstances were about a 1 out of 100.
Two years earlier, the Washington women’s basketball team had made the Final Four for the first time in school history. The following year, they reached the Sweet 16, sold out Hec Ed for the first time and watched Kelsey Plum set the NCAA career scoring record and Chantel Osahor lead the nation in rebounds.
The bar set for the program went from a five-floor apartment complex to the Empire State Building, and expecting coach Jody Wynn to replicate the glory years would have been unrealistic and unfair. But expecting at least a modicum of success was perfectly reasonable.
Unfortunately, Wynn never produced that modicum. In her four years, the Huskies didn’t once have a winning record. They never won more than five games in the Pac-12; never even considered the postseason.
Wynn finished with a record of 38-75 and a program-worst .336 winning percentage. Her firing seemed inevitable, and UW athletic director Jen Cohen made that official Monday.
In some respects, one has to sympathize with Wynn after inheriting a team sans all the stars responsible for the golden age of Huskies women’s basketball. Her predecessor, Mike Neighbors, enjoyed Plum’s and Osahor’s production for four years, three of which led to NCAA tournament appearances.
For two consecutive Marches, you could make the case that UW women’s basketball was the most popular team in Seattle. Wynn retained no significant contributors from those squads.
On the other hand, Washington had proven it could be a national threat. Potential recruits locally and nationally witnessed Plum’s and Osahor’s brilliance. They saw the Huskies could sell out their arena. They knew a career on Montlake could create a lifetime of special memories, and yet Wynn never capitalized.
Perhaps you could forgive her first season, when Washington went 7-23 overall and 1-17 in conference. After all, the Huskies were not only playing without Plum, Osahor, or other seniors such as Katie Collier and Heather Corral — but they saw third-leading scorer Aari McDonald transfer and fourth-leading scorer Natalie Romeo sit out due to medical reasons.
Maybe you could forgive Wynn’s next season, too, when the Huskies went 11-21 overall and 2-15 in the Pac-12. Still ugly, yes, but she was building a product with young players, and was getting 18.1 points per game from junior Amber Melgoza.
But then there was Year 3, when the Huskies went 13-16 overall and 5-13 in the Pac-12. Slight improvement, yes, but nothing indicating that a return trip to the postseason was on the horizon. And then there was this year’s 3-13 conference record, and, well, there was really no other choice for Cohen.
A couple of questions here.
1) Was this just a bad hire, or is Montlake no longer fertile ground for a strong women’s basketball program? The data suggests the former, and not just because of what Neighbors accomplished in his four years. From 1997 to 2007, the Huskies went to the NCAA tournament six times under June Daugherty, including an Elite Eight. In 2012 and 2013, Kevin McGuff took the Huskies to back-to-back WNITs after four sub-.500 seasons by his predecessor.
The Neighbors era was the best in UW women’s hoops history, but it wasn’t new success.
2) Should Cohen come under some scrutiny? Not just for the miss on Wynn, but because the Mike Hopkins hire on the men’s side is beginning to look suspect as well. If the men’s team finishes toward the bottom of the conference again next year, there is a good chance Hop is gone, meaning Cohen will have mostly whiffed on her two hoops hires (I say “mostly” because Hopkins did get the Huskies to the tournament in 2019).
Granted, she was instrumental in luring football coach Chris Petersen to Seattle before she was promoted to AD, and two conference championships, a Rose Bowl appearance and a trip to the College Football Playoff resulted. But that home-run hire since she took the big job? That’s still TBD.
Right now, though, this is about Wynn. It’s about a bright coach who showed promise after her accomplishments at Long Beach State but couldn’t deliver on the bigger stage.
Hopefully she lands OK. Whether the women’s program recovers in the near future remains to be seen.