Courtesy of UCI Athletics

In a piece of surprising news, Barry Faulkner of the Daily Pilot reports that UC Irvine will not renew the contract of women’s basketball head coach Molly Goodenbour, signaling a switch in leadership for next season. Goodenbour coached the Lady Anteaters for four seasons, guiding UCI through a rebuilding process that makes Goodenbour’s 44-76 record worse than it really was.

After two abysmal seasons with squads featuring former coach Molly Tuter’s players and a mix of freshmen and D-I transfers, the 2010-11 season seemed like the campaign where everything came together for UCI. Led by Mikah Maly-Karros‘ dominating play, UCI beat several quality non-conference teams to start the season 11-4 before both Maly-Karros and Tayler Champion were dismissed from the team, causing things to unravel into a 15-15 final record.

This year, Goodenbour’s squad was hampered by the season-ending injury to junior Jazmyne White, who had been named Big West Freshman of the Year in 2009-10. Despite her injury and other injuries, UCI still put together a competitive run through the Big West, earning a three seed in the Big West Tournament. However, they were “upset” in the first round by UC Santa Barbara, a 6 seed who went on to win the whole tournament.

On paper, Mike Izzi’s decision to let Goodenbour go seems a bit harsh. This was her first season with players that were all her own, and in my opinion UCI women’s basketball was definitely moving in the right direction. With another strong recruiting class and transfer Camille Buckley becoming eligible, next year may be the year that the Lady Anteaters finally put it all together.

It’s possible that Izzi decided on finding a new coach primarily based on other reasons besides UCI’s overall record. Goodenbour was a fiery personality on the sidelines, unafraid to scream at her players and express her dissatisfaction. Several of Tuter’s players quit the team when Goodenbour initially came on at UCI, and a UCI player was quoted after a win this year as saying that they played better because they were tired of being yelled at (something to that effect). Maybe it was a personality issue, or maybe it was a desire to find more of a player’s coach. A few of Goodenbour’ recruits such as Maly-Karros and Champion seemed like questionable character players, which UCI maybe wanted to move away from. I know I’ll remember Goodenbour for doing squats on her own at the ARC weight room, with no players in sight. She was undoubtedly still fit enough during her time on the sidelines to suit up for the Anteaters herself.

Ultimately, it’s impossible to speak with any high level of positivity due to the level of cryptic secrecy kept over most of the women’s basketball team. If it weren’t for Barry Faulkner reporting on the team, the only real details we’d know from the official UCI athletics website would be if the team won or lost. This was largely why coverage on Zotcubed was so sparse this season.

This recent quote from former coach Molly Tuter on is interesting (watch out for the double negative), and yet still cryptic all the same. We can only hope that the level of “support” for women’s basketball is getting better, and not worse.

I can’t say coaching wasn’t necessarily for me. It just was so stressful and with the lack of support and everything I had or didn’t have at UC-Irvine, it’s hard to be as competitive as I am and not have the ability to make the program what I wanted it to be.

If I am not mistaken, Goodenbour also represents the first coaching change of an original Izzi hiring since UCI’s AD arrived at Irvine. One of the first examples of Izzi dipping into his Stanford roots (Goodenbour was a Final Four MVP at Stanford as a player) at UCI, not renewing Goodenbour’s contract shows Izzi’s willingness to pull a quick trigger. Time will tell whether that continues with other programs… what if Russell Turner finishes about .500 during his next two seasons as men’s basketball coach?

In Faulkner’s original article, Goodenbour states that she isn’t sure whether she will continue coaching. Let’s hope that the disappointment over not being able to “finish what [Goodenbour] started” will keep her going in the women’s basketball coaching world.