But, whether it has escaped his attention or not, Georgia’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game tonight provides a striking example of how the face of the women’s basketball has softened. Of this year’s women’s Sweet 16 teams, only three are coached by men.
Two of them meet today when the third-seeded Lady Bulldogs take on second-seeded Connecticut and Geno Auriemma at 9 p.m. in Bridgeport, Conn. The game will be played at the Arena at Harbor Yard, 60 miles from the Huskies’ campus, and broadcast by ESPN2.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Andy Landers said. “I guess the only reaction I have to that is I wish it was one less (today), and he was at home in the bed with the flu.”
Landers is the last male coach in the powerhouse Southeastern Conference, and he’s becoming one of a rarer and rarer breed throughout the country. In 1999, according to NCAA figures, 66 percent of coaches in the women’s game were women. Last year, that figure had risen to 71 percent.
“I have no problems with that,” Landers said. “That is something that I’ve felt would occur over a period of time as more players who played at the highest level and went through the entire process (began entering the candidate pool). You just thought that was what was going to take place.”
Georgia star Tasha Humphrey considered playing for the Lady Bulldogs, Tennessee and Duke. The Lady Vols and Blue Devils are coached by women, but that played no factor in her decision, she said.
“If we do have a problem or we have something we want to get off our chest and we don’t think Coach (Landers) would be the best person to talk to, we do have great assistant coaches who are female,” she said.
All three Lady Bulldog assistant coaches are women.
When she was younger, senior guard Alexis Kendrick used to talk with her friends on other teams about the differences between a male and female coach, but the discussion never got much further than the stereotypical “a woman coach may come in on the wrong day and have an attitude,” she said.
Now that she’s more mature, she said, she doesn’t think there is any difference between playing for a quality male or female coach.
At Georgia, males coach seven of the 11 women’s varsity sports. Athletic director Damon Evans, the first black athletic director in the SEC, is sensitive to the need for equal opportunity but has no quotas on how many male or female coaches to hire, he said.
“I know there are some people out there who say you should hire a woman (if the candidates are equal),” he said. “I’m not one to say which is better, because I think it’s all about fit and who is the most qualified.”
Evans has made two hires for women’s sports since he took over from Vince Dooley, a male to coach the soccer team and a female to coach the volleyball team. He would be uncomfortable with males coaching every female sport at Georgia, he said.
“I go back to the qualified candidate statement, but I think it’s good to have females working as head coaches because I do feel there are qualified female candidates out there,” he said. “You have to make sure you go out and identify those minority candidates, but at the end of the day you should not hire someone solely because they are male or female.”
Georgia gymnastics coach Suzanne Yoculan said the gender of the coach makes no difference and should be no factor in the hiring process.
“I think it’s important that you understand women and how different they are as athletes,” she said. “Andy Landers obviously understands and knows how to coach a female athlete.”
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt is on record as saying gender should be part of the decision-making process.
“We don’t have another avenue to coach, where the men can coach women or they can coach men,” she told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last year. “So if their qualifications are equal and experiences across the board are pretty much the same, then if I was the AD, I’d hire the woman.”
That argument doesn’t fly with Yoculan, who believes some coaches, regardless of their sex, may be more qualified to coach men or women.
“If you have two candidates and you think they’re equal, they’re not equal,” she said. “You look deeper and find out which one is better qualified. There are a lot of male coaches out there who would be good coaches of women’s basketball but not good coaches of men’s basketball. It’s a completely different game.”
Unlike Landers, Auriemma, who could not be reached for comment this week, at least has some company in his region. The Connecticut coach and Villanova coach Harry Perretta are close friends, and Auriemma is a strong advocate for male coaches in the game.
“The best argument is, ‘Why are there men’s teachers at all-girl schools?’ My daughter went to Miss Porter’s. My other daughter went to Manchester High. My son goes to East Catholic. In every one of those schools there are males and females and you get exposed to a lot of different teaching styles,” he told The Hartford Courant. “Why should college basketball be any different than the natural world we live in?”