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Joanne P. McCallie's tenure at Duke: Struggles and investigation

A combination of an expanded conference, injuries and an investigation into the program led to some frustrating seasons between 2013 and 2016 for McCallie.
A combination of an expanded conference, injuries and an investigation into the program led to some frustrating seasons between 2013 and 2016 for McCallie.

This fall, a new era will dawn for Duke women’s basketball. But before we officially move on, The Chronicle is going to take a walk through Joanne P. McCallie’s 13-year tenure in Durham. After her early dominance from 2007 to 2013, we now look back at the struggles that ensued from 2013 to 2016.

Coming off the 2012-13 season, McCallie had established herself as a capable and respectable head coach, receiving a vote of confidence from Duke Athletics in the form of a contract extension through the 2018-19 campaign. Now, with the school in her corner and a team still pushing for a championship banner, the future looked very promising. 

However, looks can be deceiving.

With a near identical roster to the 2012-13 season, Duke powered through the 2013-14 regular season with an ACC record of 12-4, all four losses coming to Notre Dame and North Carolina. The team ultimately lost in the ACC championship to the Fighting Irish—who were in their inaugural season with the expanded conference—and made an early second-round exit in the NCAA tournament, the second such exit of McCallie’s Duke career.

After regrouping once again that offseason and recruiting the second-ranked incoming class, a turnaround seemed likely. When it came down to it however, the 2014-15 season brought exactly what Blue Devil fans were fearing: more of the same.

Duke achieved a near-identical ACC record of 11-5 and made it one round further than the previous year in the NCAA tournament. While these results technically showed progress, it was not nearly enough to instill confidence in the team.

The 2015-16 season turned out to be Duke’s worst in over two decades. Not only did it struggle to maintain a .500 conference record through a multitude of injuries, but it was left out of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1994.

To make matters worse, a mass exodus was taking place as players and coaches began departing from the program at an alarming rate.

Between 2013 and 2016, five Blue Devils transferred from Duke and one left to pursue a career overseas. The last two to do so, Azura Stevens and Angela Salvadores, were two of Duke’s top performers at the time of their departure.

In the same three-year span, assistant coaches Joy Cheek and Candice M. Jackson parted ways with the Blue Devils to take jobs at other programs.

All this turnover and turmoil seemed too dramatic to be happening for no reason, and it wasn’t long before a potential explanation was brought to public attention.

After the end of the 2015-16 season, Duke began an internal investigation to evaluate allegations of the women’s basketball program’s conduct toward players and staff.

The issue of player mistreatment has been a part of competitive sports for a long time, especially in NCAA women’s basketball. According to Sports Illustrated, between 2013 and 2015, at least seven Division I programs investigated or disciplined head coaches on the basis of mistreatment. 

A major reason for increased investigation and attention on player mistreatment was that the players had begun to speak out themselves. Former Duke star and current WNBA center Elizabeth Williams used her voice to bring light to the situation surrounding her former coach. She denied that any physical or criminal mistreatment occurred during her time on the roster, but did describe the general atmosphere as being negative.

After roughly one month of investigation, it was determined that McCallie would stay on as head coach

The investigation, in addition to McCallie’s worst performing season, cast a dark shadow over both her successful past and promising future. Fortunately for the program, the worst was now behind her.

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