On March 5, Adam Sparks, Vanderbilt’s beat writer for the Tennessean, reported Stephanie White would be returning to coach her sixth season for the Commodores.
Not so fast.
On Tuesday, Vandy Athletic Director Candice Lee announced White will not be returning after all.
“I want to thank Stephanie for her efforts over these past five years,” Lee said in the press release. “While we did not experience the results that we all hoped for, she held our student-athletes to high standards. She supported our student-athletes’ commitment to community service and welcomed alumni back to the program.”
Why the change of heart? I think we can safely assume the departures of three projected starters in the span of the last week had something to do with it.
Point guard Chelsea Hall announced she is transferring to Louisville while Autumn Newby is leaving for LSU. Leading scorer and rebounder Koi Love also entered the transfer portal but has not yet announced her next destination.
While the knee-jerk reaction might to blame the inevitable one-time transfer rule which has completely changed the landscape of college basketball, for Vanderbilt these departures are just the latest in what has been a regular pattern during White’s tenure.
Key players who have left since White took over include All-SEC freshmen Rebecca Dahlman (DePaul), Kayla Overbeck (Southern Cal), and Erin Whalen (Dayton). Other departures, like Blessing Ejifor (Chipola College) and Cierra Walker (Gonzaga), became quality starters for their new schools. Akira Levy, who was an All-SEC freshman at Missouri before transferring to Vandy, transferred again (Cincinnati) without playing a game for the Commodores.
Add Hall, Newby, and Love with that group and you have nine starters who have transferred in the last five seasons. Such high turnover on the roster was a huge factor in White’s inability to develop any cohesion or traction for establishing success.
Being fairly well plugged into the pulse of the Vandy fanbase, I feel qualified to say the initial decision to bring White back was met with disappointment from the majority of Commodore Nation. Now that she is gone, more fans will likely start paying attention again. Right or wrong, there is no question the team’s demonstrations during the National Anthem turned off a lot of fans. Also, right or wrong, the decision to end the 20-21 season after eight games was negatively viewed by many fans as a team that just wanted to quit.
Those arguments are topics for another day, but what cannot be debated is White’s coaching record. Her overall record at Vandy was 46-83, and a 13-54 mark in the SEC. This includes a 7-24 record her second year and 7-23 her third year which were the worst in program history.
I can actually remember in the 1990’s through the 2000’s, before Tim Corbin built the baseball program into the best in the nation, when the women’s basketball team was the school’s flagship program for national success. Under Jim Foster, and then Melanie Balcomb, Vandy was powerhouse. SEC tournament titles and deep runs in the NCAA tournament were a regular occurrence and there was a tremendous fanbase which kept Vandy among the national leaders in attendance.
Those days seem like a long time ago, but Candace Lee was a player during that golden era. Credit her for once again making a tough decision and doing what needed to be done. As she begins her second-high profile coaching search in five months, I cannot think of anyone with more insight and understanding into the type of coach who can bring the program back to that level. With the school’s combination of academics, location, SEC affiliation, women’s basketball fanbase, and recently announced facility upgrades this should be a very attractive job. With the aforementioned one-time transfer rule establishing what basically amounts to free agency in college hoops, there is a unique opportunity to become competitive sooner than later.
There is no reason the women’s basketball program can’t be a national power again, and hopefully Lee will find the right coach to energize the fanbase like she did with her football hire. The Dore Report will keep you updated with coaching developments…