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Who Will Be WVU’s Next Women’s Basketball Coach?

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West Virginia native Joanna Bernabei-McNamee coaches for Boston College against Pitt in the 2021 ACC Tournament in Greensboro, NC. (Mitchell Northam / WV Sports Now)

For the first time since 2001, West Virginia will conduct a search for a women’s basketball coach.

The Mountaineers made the right hire the last time around, pulling Mike Carey away from Division II Salem. He stayed in Morgantown for two decades, guiding WVU to nearly 450 wins and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, turning the Mountaineers into a respectable program in women’s college basketball.

Carey announced his retirement on Wednesday, and now athletic director Shane Lyons is tasked with finding his replacement.

Here’s a few names that could pop up in the search.

The top choice: Joanna Bernabei-McNamee

  • Current gig: Boston College head coach
  • Experience: 10 years as a head coach, 10 years as an assistant

This should be the first call AD Shane Lyons makes. Bernabei-McNamee has done a solid job at Boston College, and her job there isn’t in jeopardy by any means, but he should try and lure this Mountain State native back home.

Bernabei-McNamee, 46, was born and raised in Weirton, West Virginia and played her college basketball at Division II West Liberty State. She was the athletic director and head women’s basketball coach at Division II West Virginia Wesleyan in for the 1998-1999 academic year, and also spent three seasons – in two separate stints – as an assistant coach under Carey in Morgantown.

In between her tenures as an assistant at WVU, Bernabei-McNamee was an assistant at Maryland and was part of a staff that helped the Terps win a national championship in 2006.

After leaving college coaching for a bit, she became the head coach at Pikesville, an NAIA school in Kentucky. She guided the team to 63 wins in four seasons, including a Final Four appearance in 2016. Bernabei-McNamee parlayed that success into her first Division I head coaching job at Albany in the America East, where she went 45-20 in two seasons and led the Great Danes to an NCAA Tournament appearance.

Bernabei-McNamee was then hired at Boston College. In four seasons there so far, she’s 60-51 overall and 25-39 in ACC play. She is also 3-4 in ACC Tournament games.

The Eagles were poised to make the NCAA Tournament in 2020 with a 20-12 record and 11-7 ACC record, but the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19. This season, with a 19-11 overall record, BC was one of the First Four out of the tournament and are instead playing in the WNIT.

A source familiar with the situation says that there is mutual interest between Bernabei-McNamee and West Virginia. In addition to returning home, part of the appeal for her could be going to a conference that is less difficult to compete in than the ACC, which had eight teams make the NCAA Tournament this season – two of which were No. 1 seeds. Additionally, West Virginia is – academically – an easier institution to recruit to than Boston College. Despite the academic hurdles, Bernabei-McNamee has landed an ESPN Top 100 recruit in each of the last three classes.

Other names that could be in the mix

Diane Richardson

  • Current gig: Towson head coach
  • Experience: 5 years as a college head coach, 8 years as a high school head coach, 8 years as a college assistant

Richardson’s last stint as an assistant coach was at West Virginia under Carey in the 2016-17 season, a year in which the Mountaineers won the Big 12 tournament title, their first ever. Since then, she’s been at Towson where she’s gone 76-65 in five seasons. In 2019, she guided the Tigers to their first CAA title and first NCAA Tournament appearance. Having been a high school coach in Prince George’s County, and an assistant at Maryland, American and George Washington, Richardson knows the fertile DMV recruiting grounds well.

Karen Blair

  • Current gig: Associate head coach at Maryland
  • Experience: 23 years as an assistant coach

Blair has been Brenda Frese’s top lieutenant at Maryland for the past four seasons, serving as an assistant, recruiting coordinator and now associate head coach. In 2020, Blair was named Division I Assistant Coach of the Year by the WBCA. Since joining the Terps, she’s helped Maryland land six ESPN Top 100 recruits – including two All-Americans this season in Ashley Owusu and Angel Reese. The Terps have also won three Big Ten regular season titles since Blair has been on staff. If she’s ready to become a head coach, West Virginia could be a place for her to build a team of her own.

Sean O’Regan

JMU’s Sean O’Regan coaches against Maryland on Nov. 14, 2021. (Mitchell Northam / WV Sports Now)

  • Current gig: James Madison head coach
  • Experience: 7 years as a head coach, 11 years as an assistant

O’Regan has been at James Madison – less than 170 miles from Morgantown – since 2007, first as an assistant under Kenny Brooks and then as the head coach of the Dukes since 2016. In each of O’Regan’s first four years at the helm, JMU won more than 23 games and won multiple games in the WNIT in three of those seasons. In 2020, the Dukes were poised to potentially make the NCAA Tournament before COVID-19 intervened. JMU has stumbled a bit the last two seasons – finishing 14-10 and 14-15 – but O’Regan has shown that he can recruit to and produce winning basketball teams in this region of the country.

Gail Goestenkors

  • Current gig: Assistant coach at Kentucky
  • Experience: 20 years as a head coach, 9 years as a college assistant, 2 years as a WNBA assistant

Goestenkors was the head coach at Duke from 1992 to 2007 when the Blue Devils experienced their greatest success in women’s basketball. She was a seven-time ACC Coach of the Year as she guided Duke to four Final Four berths and five ACC Tournament titles. Goestenkors left Duke in 2007 for a payday at Texas, where she coached for five seasons and took the Longhorns to the NCAA Tournament each year. After nearly a decade from coaching in college, Goestenkors returned in 2020-21 as the associate head coach at Central Michigan, and has been at Kentucky this past season, helping the Wildcats win the SEC Tournament. She has publicly said multiple times that she would like to be a college head coach again, and at 59-years-old has plenty of coaching left in her.

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