The Kim Mulkey era at Baylor is over.
After winning three NCAA women’s basketball titles and a dozen Big 12 regular-season titles, Mulkey is headed back to her home state of Louisiana.
Mulkey ended a week of speculation and rumor Sunday, taking the coaching job at LSU in a stunning move after notifying her Baylor players, according to multiple reports. She grew up in Tickfaw, La., and became an All-American point guard at Louisiana Tech. Her son, Kramer Robertson, played baseball at LSU.
“It’s insane how 1 day can change your life forever,” Baylor junior forward NaLyssa Smith tweeted Sunday before the news broke in a bit of foreshadowing.
“We are grateful for the more than two decades Kim Mulkey poured into building Baylor women’s basketball to one of the nation’s premier programs,” Baylor Athletic Director Mack Rhoades said in a written statement. “Coach Mulkey’s sustained success is one of the most remarkable runs in college basketball history, and her accomplishments are worthy of the Naismith Hall of Fame induction she’ll experience later this year...
“We have launched a national search for our next head coach, and we will not make any comments on prospective candidates or where we are in the process until we are ready to introduce the next Baylor Women’s Basketball head coach.”
The timing is a bit strange for the homecoming.
The 58-year-old Mulkey still has Baylor as one of the powers in women’s basketball and the dominant program in the Big 12. The Lady Bears won the NCAA title as recently as 2019, and lost to UConn in the regional finals this past season. Mulkey takes 631 career victories and a .859 win percentage to Baton Rouge. She was named to the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2020.
Under exiting coach Nikki Fargas, LSU hasn’t advanced beyond the first round of the NCAA tournament since 2014 despite being in a talent-laden state. Plus the school and athletic department has been hit by charges of sexual abuse and misconduct dating back to former football coach Les Miles — something similar to what Mulkey experienced at Baylor.
Still, new NCAA transfer rules make wholesale personnel changes much more doable.
For all her success and remarkably high profile, Mulkey has faced criticism for public comments.
Former Baylor standout Brittney Griner, who is gay, told ESPN that Mulkey discouraged her players from discussing their sexuality because it might harm the Baptist school and program.
Mulkey criticized scrutiny of Baylor in 2017 in the wake of handling of sexual assault by the school and athletic department. An investigation by law firm Pepper Hamilton brought down football coach Art Briles. And following the loss to UConn earlier this month, Mulkey suggested the NCAA forego COVID-19 testing for the Final Four.
Women’s basketball fans at Baylor didn’t seem to mind any controversy. Many credit the women’s basketball national championship in 2005 with helping the Baylor community heal after the death of a men’s basketball player and NCAA sanctions under coach Dave Bliss.
While LSU athletic director Scott Woodward added to his reputation for landing high-profile coaching targets (see Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M), Mulkey is already making a reported $2.27 million annually as one of the nation’s highest paid women’s coaches although she’s expected to get a raise. And she’s been given the tools to maintain the program by Rhoades.
Rhoades now faces the possibility of hiring Mulkey’s replacement in a changing Big 12 environment. Texas made a major statement last year by bringing in Vic Schaefer, who reached the Sweet 16 this past season. Oklahoma hired 39-year-old Jennie Baranczyk to replace the retiring Sherri Coale.
But Baylor is still a remarkably attractive program that should bring plenty of interest.