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End of an Era: UNM's Flanagan resigns

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — View the reaction to Flanagan’s resignation and a time line of his years as a coach.

Don Flanagan made women’s basketball matter at the University of New Mexico.

In his 16 seasons as head coach, he transformed the program from unnoticed doormat playing in a near-empty arena to consistent winner performing before some of the nation’s most loyal fans — often 10,000-plus — rocking the Pit.

His Lobo teams won 340 games; reached eight NCAA Tournaments, including the Sweet 16; and ranked among the top 10 in attendance for each of the past 13 years.

But after enduring just his second losing season at UNM, the 67-year-old Flanagan resigned Monday — less than a week after he told the Journal he was looking forward to coaching next year because of his current group of talented freshmen and the return of two injured players.

That all apparently changed when five of those freshmen players informed Flanagan last week of their intentions to quit the team.

“I had intended to coach next season and was gearing up for that,” Flanagan said Mon- day. “That changed when players started leaving. It wasn’t fair to the program for me to stay and try to recruit multiple players with one year left on my contract, so I feel the best thing to do is retire.”

Flanagan’s five-year contract was scheduled to expire in April 2012; his retirement is effective at the end of this month.

Flanagan said the freshmen — Tina Doughty, Erin Boettcher, Morgan Toben, Brianna Taylor and Jasmine Patterson — informed him of their intentions to quit during postseason individual meetings last week.

“Tina’s playing time had dropped off, so I had a feeling she might not come back,” Flanagan said. “But the others, I didn’t expect it at all.”

Flanagan said he made numerous phone calls to the freshman players, their families and former coaches late last week, trying to change their minds, but to no avail. He decided over the weekend to resign.

“Some of them told me they don’t even want to play basketball anymore,” Flanagan said. “I don’t really understand it, but they have their reasons and all I can do is respect them.”

None of the freshman players was available for comment Monday. Flanagan informed the other returning players of his decision at the Davalos Center around noon.

“The players are all still surprised and trying to process everything,” junior Lauren Taylor said in a text message. “We’re just focusing on keeping a positive outlook and working hard.”

UNM athletics director Paul Krebs said associate head coach Yvonne Sanchez will take over in the interim but that the school will conduct a national search for Flanagan’s replacement.

“The timing is really fortuitous for us because this is still what I consider a prime hiring time,” Krebs said in a phone interview from Houston, where he is attending the men’s NCAA Final Four. “We’ll do a national search, and I would assume (Sanchez) will be a candidate — a very strong candidate if she chooses to pursue the job.”

Krebs said UNM will hold a news conference today at 1 p.m. to discuss the posi tion and “celebrate Don’s accomplishments with the program.”

Eagles to Lobos

Flanagan’s overall coaching accomplishments are considerable. He spent 40 seasons leading high school a nd col lege basketba l l teams, including 16 remarkable years at Eldorado High School. From 1978 to 1994, Flanagan’s Eagles were 401-13 and won 11 girls basketball state championships.

Flanagan moved to UNM in 1995, taking over a women’s program that had been dropped from 1987 to 1991 and then had gone 14-96 in Maureen Eckroth’s four seasons as coach.

Flanagan matched that win total in his first campaign as the Lobos finished 14-15. His UNM teams then posted 14 consecutive winning records, reaching at least 20 victories 11 times.

New Mexico became a consistent conference-title contender, winning three regular-season titles and six tournament championships. The Lobos reached eight NCAA Tournaments under Flanagan, the high point coming in 2002-03 when they reached the Sweet 16.

“Don turned this program around, and not only made the Lobos contenders, but he impacted the lives of so many young women,” Krebs said. “What he was able to do with his team on the court and in the classroom from the championships to the academic awards is to be commended.”

Critics surface

Flanagan’s teams were known for academic achievement, compiling an overall 3.22 grade-point average. In 16 years, 102 of his players earned all-conference academic honors.

Nonetheless, his program had begun drawing criticism in recent years. The team failed to reach the past three NCAA Tournaments and a talent drop-off was perceived by some fans.

Flanagan, who does not enjoy air travel and drove to most road games, was criticized for not recruiting actively enough. Some also questioned his hiring of his son, Shane Flanagan, as an assistant coach in 2005.

Flanagan’s base salary was $210,000 with an additional $100,000 per year tacked on for promoting the program. His total annual compensation was around $400,000.

While Flanagan’s contract was set to run through April 30, 2012, Sanchez and assistant coaches Dave Shoemate and Shane Flanagan are under contract through June 30, 2012.

Flanagan laughed when asked if there was any chance he would coach again at any level.

“If I say ‘yes,’ my wife will kill me,” he said.

But after admitting he was disappointed to have his career end on a losing note (UNM was 13-18 in 2010-11) and amid unprecedented player defections, Flanagan said he is at peace with his decision to retire.

“Coaching at UNM has been an excellent experience for me,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to coach and work with outstanding people and I’m sure I’ll miss some aspects of it. But I’ve got some hobbies and other things I enjoy. I’m already kind of liking the sound of ‘retirement.’ ” By the numbers

340 wins to 168 losses in 16 seasons at UNM 8 NCAA Tournament appearances 1 NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance (2002-03) 3 regular-season MWC titles 6 conference tournament titles 8,000-plus average home attendance.


 

Apr. 4, 2011, 02:54 p.m.
Don Flanagan, architect of one of the nation’s most popular women’s college basketball programs, resigned Monday as head coach at the University of New Mexico.

The resignation came after five freshman players informed Flanagan of their intentions to quit the team. Flanagan had one year remaining on a four-year contract extension signed in 2007.

“I had intended to coach next season and was gearing up for that,” Flanagan said. “That changed when players started leaving. It wasn’t fair to the program for me to stay and try to recruit multiple players with one year left on my contract, so I feel the best thing to do is retire.”

Flanagan said the freshmen (Tina Doughty, Erin Boettcher, Morgan Toben, Brianna Taylor and Jasmine Patterson) informed him of their intentions to quit during postseason individual meetings last week.

“Tina’s playing time had dropped off, so I had feeling she might not come back,” Flanagan said. “But the others, I didn’t expect it at all.”

Flanagan said he made numerous phone calls to the freshman players and their families and coaches late last week, trying to change their minds but to no avail. He decided over the weekend to resign.

“Some of them told me they don’t even want to play basketball anymore,” Flanagan said. “I don’t really understand it, but they have their reasons and all I can do is respect them.”

None of the freshman players were available for comment Monday.

UNM athletic director Paul Krebs said associate coach Yvonne Sanchez will take over as interim coach but that the school will conduct a national search for Flanagan’s replacement.

“The timing is really fortuitous for us because this is still what I consider a prime hiring time,” Krebs said in a phone interview from Houston, where he was attending the men’s Final Four. “We’ll do a national search and I would assume (Sanchez) will be a candidate — a very strong candidate if she chooses to pursue the job.”

Krebs said UNM will hold a press conference Tuesday to discuss the position and “celebrate Don’s accomplishments with the program.”

Flanagan, 67, has spent combined 40 seasons coaching high school and college basketball. He posted a remarkable 401-13 record coach girls basketball at Eldorado High School and won 11 state championships in 16 years.

In 16 seasons at UNM he amassed a 340-168 record, won three regular-season conference championships, five Mountain West Conference tournament titles and led the Lobos to eight NCAA Tournaments. New Mexico has finished among the top 10 nationally in women’s basketball attendance each of the past 13 seasons.

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