Earning the extension

Head coach Joanne P. McCallie brought the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation to Durham this year.
Head coach Joanne P. McCallie brought the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation to Durham this year.

Recently, Duke’s campus has begun to focus its unwavering eye on the upcoming basketball season. And while both the men’s and women’s programs have important questions to address, one thing is for certain: Get used to women’s head coach Joanne P. McCallie pacing the hardwood.

Last Friday afternoon, lost amid the football coverage, Vice President and Director of Athletics Kevin White announced that McCallie’s contract would be extended three years, through the 2016-17 season.

But with four years remaining on her original deal, the extension appears premature, considering Coach P has yet to enter a campaign without a team comprising—at least in part­—Gail Goestenkors’s recruits.

According to McCallie, the new deal is all about preserving her edge on the recruiting trail.

“In recruiting, entering your fourth year is dangerous,” McCallie said. “When you hit your fourth year, which I have at Duke, you’ve got to reassess. Otherwise, people will use it against you.”

If McCallie should be considered an expert in anything, it’s recruiting. Between stops at Auburn, Maine and Michigan State, she has pulled in class after class of top prep schoolers, often stealing the cream of the crop from the country’s best programs.

This year, McCallie welcomes a class of freshmen ranked No. 1 nationally by ESPN’s Hoopgurlz. White cited this as a major reason why the extension was offered.

“Given the tremendous recruiting success Joanne and her staff have enjoyed, the excitement for Duke Women’s Basketball is at an all-time high,” White said in a press release. “Under her outstanding leadership, Duke is positioned to be one of the elite programs in the country.”

But is having a contract guaranteed partly because of the athletic careers of her recruits right? Yes, Coach P has done an excellent job of recruting this year, but couldn’t the extension have waited until we see what the new players do on the hardwood?

While beating out women’s coaching legends Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt for the nation’s top recruits is certainly nothing to ignore, it’s an indicator best met with caution.

Over the last two years, Connecticut has won 78 straight games and two national titles with 2008 and 2009 classes ranked second and 49th, respectively.

Stanford, the Huskies’ main competition over that span, pulled in the sixth and tenth-ranked recruiting classes over that same period.

True, a team is not as good as its freshmen and sophomores. But the fact remains that a single No. 1 recruiting class won’t necessarily be enough to push the Blue Devils into national championship contention.

And that is the resounding expectation of the athletic department.

“We have a rich history; but as of late, we haven’t competed at that level,” White said in an email. “All indications suggest that we are heading back in that direction, wherein we will win a championship. Then another one, etc.”

A more developed body of work, though, is required to know if the indicators that White talked about do exist. The knowledge that Coach P can be a consistent ACC contender is required. Maybe she does have the tools to send Duke to Final Fours and national championships. But we still have never seen a team comprised just of her recruits.

Maybe McCallie will prove to be a consistently great recruiter and coach. But we haven’t seen her coach enough yet.

And considering the recent classes of Connecticut and Stanford, it seems premature to extend the contract of a coach whose main strength, recruting, has yet to translate into the program success envisioned by the athletic department.

The final results won’t be in for several more years, a period that will define McCallie’s legacy, for better or for worse. Unfortunately for Duke, it has already paid to see what those results will be.


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