We don't do royal families in the United States, but we do love a good sporting line of succession.
Within minutes of announcing in April that Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw was retiring, Notre Dame also announced her successor. And if McGraw's departure was a stunner, it surprised no one that Niele Ivey returned to her alma mater to carry on the legacy.
Notre Dame had a plan. And not just in theory, as athletic director Jack Swarbrick described bluntly of yearly conversations with McGraw as to the state of the program.
"One of the questions annually in that conversation," Swarbrick said, "is 'Coach, if the proverbial bus comes along, who would you want to succeed you?'"
That got us thinking about succession plans at the most stable programs in women's college basketball.
Who might come next at UConn when Geno Auriemma retires? Or on the more far-fetched end of the spectrum, what would happen at South Carolina if Dawn Staley suddenly wanted to focus on Team USA? Or coach in the NBA? Or run for office?
So omitting schools like Tennessee and Texas that made recent changes, and omitting programs with coaches who might genuinely be on the hot seat (this isn't about firing people), what might a Notre Dame scenario look like when it comes to some of the biggest names in the business?
Baylor's Kim Mulkey
In the family: Sytia Messer, Baylor assistant coach. Not many schools have more than one former conference Coach of the Year on the bench. Mulkey has an office full of Big 12 awards, but Messer was named the Ohio Valley Conference's best coach in 2010-11 while at Tennessee Tech. Like seemingly every coach currently in Texas, save her current boss, she has ties to Gary Blair, having played for him on a Final Four team at Arkansas. And since arriving at Baylor before the 2013-14 season, she has led recruiting efforts that have kept a lot of talent flowing through Waco.
Outsider: Joanna Bernabei-McNamee, Boston College head coach. This is the most difficult puzzle on the list. There are plenty of distinctive personalities among the upper echelon of coaches, but Mulkey and Baylor are a unique pairing. Plugging in an outside candidate is like trying to plug in an appliance in a foreign country. It's just a different voltage. So this is admittedly a wild swing. But Bernabei-McNamee has been quietly impressive at both Boston College and Albany. She also understands the standards and guidelines that come with coaching at a private college, from coaching at the University of Pikeville in Kentucky and West Virginia Wesleyan.
UConn's Geno Auriemma
In the family: Shea Ralph, UConn assistant coach. Chris Dailey has been there since the start with Auriemma, but there is every indication they will exit at the same time. Ralph is widely viewed as the heir apparent in much the same way Ivey was ahead of more senior peers in South Bend. It would be a daunting debut job, but institutional memory and tradition are going to be UConn's most valuable assets when it comes to life after Auriemma. Holly Warlick's travails showed that isn't enough sometimes. But sometimes it is -- UCLA softball coach Kelly Inouye-Perez following the legendary Sue Enquist.
Outsider: Megan Duffy, Marquette head coach. This would admittedly be an almost impossible job for anyone outside the family. It isn't just following Pat Summitt or John Wooden, it's following them if Tennessee or UCLA, respectively, were no longer in Power 5 conferences. UConn isn't going to get a big name to leave an established championship program for that. But the allure might outweigh the challenges for the brightest young coaches. Successful at Miami (Ohio) and now Marquette, Duffy sits near the top of that list. She certainly understands the UConn phenomenon from her days playing for Notre Dame. She also understands the new Big East, its limitations and opportunities.
DePaul's Doug Bruno
In the family: Samantha Quigley, Lewis University head coach. Rather than take the assistant route at her alma mater or another Division I school, Quigley opted for more immediate executive experience at lower levels. It's difficult to argue with the results. She went 101-62 in five seasons (2012-17) as head coach at NAIA University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois, including a trip to the national semifinals in her final season. She then compiled a 70-25 record in her first three seasons at NCAA Division II Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois.
Outsider: Kate Achter, Loyola Chicago head coach. She isn't far beyond the DePaul bubble at the moment, just a few miles away in Chicago. Loyola was very much a rebuilding project when she took over as a first-time head coach, but a 15-14 record this season in the competitive Missouri Valley highlighted one of the more impressive coaching performances over the past few seasons. She had an admittedly brief introduction to the Big East in one season as an assistant at Xavier. She's also a Midwestern product who understands competing nationally from beyond the Power 5, first as part of a Sweet 16 run as a player at Bowling Green and then as an assistant coach at St. Bonaventure.
Florida State's Sue Semrau
In the family: Brooke Wyckoff, Florida State associate head coach. We are really starting to see the WNBA generation making its presence felt in big jobs, with Ivey and Mississippi State's Nikki McCray-Penson (not to mention Delisha Milton-Jones at Old Dominion) now joining Dawn Staley, Lindsay Whalen and others. Wyckoff looks among those next in line after nearly a decade on the bench at her alma mater -- including the past two as associate coach. She is a proven recruiter whose experience playing overseas also adds international contacts.
Outsider: Karl Smesko, Florida Gulf Coast head coach. As with Green Bay's Kevin Borseth in Wisconsin, maybe the big programs in a state will forever look for shinier objects. And Tallahassee is a world away from Fort Myers, so perhaps Smesko would be content to keep his beaches. But at some point there has to be another chapter for a coach who wins and wins with an entertaining style that should scale well to a bigger program. Think an ACC Oregon, which happens to be coached by a former more-than-mid-major guru.
Louisville's Jeff Walz
In the family: Stephanie Norman, Louisville associate head coach. Norman has been with Walz from the outset at Louisville. Among the most qualified candidates in the country, she had stops at Oregon, Oregon State and Vanderbilt, among others, even before spending more than a decade in Louisville. Plenty of schools have inquired over the years, but she was comfortable personally and professionally. She would represent the best of both worlds, continuity from a wildly successful era but also highly sought potential.
Outsider: Jennie Baranczyk, Drake head coach. She had Drake headed toward another NCAA tournament bid and had already eased past the program's seventh consecutive 20-win season. It's already an impressive résumé for someone still in her 30s. At some point, the financial security and competitive opportunity of a big job might tempt her away from her hometown. Maybe that will be her alma mater when Lisa Bluder retires at Iowa. But Louisville would at least keep extended family within a day's drive.
Maryland's Brenda Frese
In the family: Karen Blair, Maryland assistant coach. More than almost any other elite program, Maryland cycles through assistants on a pretty regular basis (Walz and Rice's Tina Langley are among the more notable). So it isn't as if Blair has been Frese's disciple for years. But the breadth of her experience is part of what makes her a viable candidate -- the WBCA award as this year's best Division I assistant coach also doesn't hurt. In two decades on the job, she has worked in just about every region and at just about every level of a Division I program.
Outsider: Tempie Brown, Stanford assistant coach. Brown recently completed her seventh season on Tara VanDerveer's staff at Stanford, and there is little indication she is actively seeking to strike out on her own. Stanford is a pretty good gig. But three decades out from her playing days and two decades into her college coaching career, it's nearing time to make that jump if she desires. And Frese made Maryland into a job with a lot of appeal. Brown has ample Big Ten experience, first as a player at Michigan and then as an assistant at Northwestern and associate head coach at Michigan State. And coasts aside, Maryland swims in the same national recruiting pool that Brown navigates at Stanford.
Oregon's Kelly Graves
In the family: Mark Campbell, Oregon associate head coach. They don't come much more Pacific Northwest than Campbell, a Washington native who played junior college basketball in Oregon, is married to a former Oregon high school star (Vanderbilt basketball alum Ashley Smith) and had already been associate head coach at both Oregon and Oregon State before his 40th birthday. Sabrina Ionescu never failed to credit Campbell for his help in her time in Eugene, and she would be a good alum to have in your corner.
Outsider: Jeff Walz, Louisville head coach. The "Walz Watch" is now an offseason staple. From Ohio State to Tennessee to, most recently, Mississippi State, his name comes up for seemingly every major opening. Which is a bit odd because the Kentucky native hasn't ever expressed much dissatisfaction with his current gig and signed an extension through the 2024-25 season. But we're talking hypotheticals here. And much as it was for Graves, Oregon might be the rare job that offers someone like Walz both the resources to win a championship and the salary to match those aspirations.
Oregon State's Scott Rueck
In the family: Jonas Chatterton, Oregon State associate head coach. A former assistant at BYU, Utah alum and Salt Lake City native, Chatterton's name is sure to come up whenever longtime BYU coach Jeff Judkins steps aside. But both he and fellow Oregon State associate head coach Brian Holsinger are nearing the fork in the road that all senior assistants at successful major programs face. But it would be the ultimate measure of the stability Rueck brought to a mess of a program if Chatterton takes over.
Outsider: Ryan McCarthy, Alaska Anchorage head coach. Oregon State hit the jackpot once by going off the Division I board with Rueck, so why not try again if in need of a successor? Rueck ran a Division III juggernaut at George Fox. McCarthy is in the midst of the same at Division II Alaska Anchorage. His 2019-20 team was 31-2 and ranked No. 4 when the Division II season was called off, and he is 221-36 in eight seasons at the school that competes in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. Not bad for someone who stepped off the court himself only in 2007.
Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer
In the family: Chelsea Newton, Georgia assistant coach. There are more than a few branches on Stringer's coaching tree, but those extending to Georgia look the strongest at the moment. The two programs reportedly worked amicably in easing Maori Davenport's recent transfer to be closer to home, and Georgia associate head coach Karen Lange and Newton both played for Stringer. Both would be good candidates, but Newton is the alum (Lange played for Stringer at Iowa). After about five years playing in the WNBA and overseas and another decade coaching at Rutgers and Georgia, Newton has credentials.
Outsider: Marisa Moseley, Boston University head coach. Though any rivalry is largely extinct since they parted ways in conference realignment, what better last laugh for Rutgers than to pluck the assistant Auriemma helped mentor at UConn? Moseley might not be in a hurry to leave her alma mater, but back-to-back winning records in her first two seasons (compared to a 44-108 record the previous five seasons) suggest her name will start popping up on a lot of search committee lists. She knows well the Northeast recruiting territory, but she also has some Big Ten experience as a former Minnesota assistant.
South Carolina's Dawn Staley
In the family: Jolette Law, South Carolina assistant coach. Any move by Staley would lead to questions about Nikki McCray-Penson's interest in carrying on her friend's legacy. But let's leave McCray-Penson to settle in at Mississippi State. Associate head coach Lisa Boyer has a supremely impressive résumé, including more than a decade as a head coach. But she might choose to leave succession to someone else. Someone like Law. Despite Illinois proving to be a difficult place for anyone to win, Law still hasn't gotten a second chance in charge since parting ways with the Illini in 2012. This could be that opportunity.
Outsider: Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, Missouri State head coach. This would be something of a homecoming for a Virginia native who has followed the game around the country to great success. Most recently, Agugua-Hamilton not only met the challenge of following Kellie Harper at Missouri State but arguably improved on her predecessor with a projected No. 6 seed this season. Granted, following Staley would be several orders of magnitude more challenging, but "Coach Mox" has the confidence.
Stanford's Tara VanDerveer
In the family: Kate Paye, Stanford associate head coach. At least as much as Notre Dame's Ivey and UConn's Ralph, Paye has looked like the heir apparent for a long time. Heck, in the 13 seasons Paye has been on the bench, Lindy La Rocque was recruited by Stanford, played for Stanford, coached at Stanford and took a head coaching job at UNLV. Paye had plenty of options, in other words. She chose to stay at the school where she also earned her law degree and MBA.
Outsider: Carla Berube, Princeton head coach. She will, of course, be a subject of conversation when her former coach eventually steps aside at UConn. But it's difficult to imagine that someone who was content enough at Division III Tufts to build a mini-dynasty and picked the Ivy League for her move to Division I will want any part of that particular spotlight. Succeeding VanDerveer is no less daunting, but Berube could take it on with the freedom of an outsider from the other side of the country. With a 542-105 record as a college player or head coach, mostly at elite academic schools, she would be a natural fit.
Texas A&M's Gary Blair
In the family: Kelly Bond-White, Texas A&M associate head coach. There is no shortage of experience on the bench in College Station. Even the youngest member of the staff, Amy Wright, is a name that comes up often when talk turns to coaching prospects. But Bond-White should be first in line. At Texas A&M since 2003 (and Blair's assistant somewhere almost since she stepped off the court in 1998), Bond-White recently described her approach to the next step in terms of "patience " -- which certainly leaves open the door.
Outsider: Johnnie Harris, Texas associate head coach. All right, outsider is a stretch here. But one likely succession plan disappeared for Texas A&M when Vic Schaefer accepted the job at Texas. Blair's former longtime lieutenant could still trade Austin for College Station, but it seems less likely. So why not take one of college basketball's most valuable assistants away from him? Harris said in the past that she's in no hurry to take a head coaching job, but the former WBCA Division I Assistant Coach of the Year also said she felt as if she were ready for the right opportunity. A return to Texas A&M might just be it.