The Best Head Coach Names of the 2020-21 Women’s College Basketball Season
Last week, we rounded up the best player names; now, it’s the coaches’ turn
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On December 15, Stanford women’s basketball head coach Tara VanDerveer got her 1,099th career win, passing the late Pat Summitt for the most wins all-time. Hot on her heels is UConn head coach Geno Auriemma, who earned his 1,098th win on January 9.
However, while VanDerveer and Auriemma have bragging rights on the scoreboard, other coaches have them beat on a different metric: the best names in women’s college basketball. Every year, I compile the best names among players and head coaches in Division I. You can find this year’s list of player names here and previous seasons’ lists of head coach names here and here.
Please note that coaches’ names are listed as they appear on NCAA.com; in some cases, that means a coach goes by a nickname instead of their full name. Head coaches of the 12 teams that opted out of the entire 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 are not included, leaving 344 coaches for consideration.
Most common names and gender balance
There are nearly twice as many female head coaches (219) as male head coaches (125) whose teams are active in Division I this season. However, there is much more overlap in men’s first names than in women’s first names. Jeff is the most popular first name—shared by seven head coaches—and of the seven names that at least four head coaches share, five are men’s names.
Among other factors, former players entering the coaching ranks have bolstered the pipeline of female head coaches in Division I. Along with more established head coaches such as Dawn Staley and Jennifer Rizzotti, former players Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, Tina Thompson, Kara Lawson, Kyra Elzy, Nikki McCray-Penson, Semeka Randall-Lay, Nicole Powell, Niele Ivey, Lindsay Whalen, and DeLisha Milton-Jones have all gotten head coaching opportunities at new schools within the past three years and are still active this season.
Relatively few head coaches share last names, with Williams, Smith, and White being the only names shared by at least three coaches. However, there are a few pairs of relatives, including sisters Tara (Stanford) and Heidi VanDerveer (UC San Diego) and Dave and Maureen Magarity, the father-daughter duo who once coached together but are now Patriot League rivals at Army and Holy Cross, respectively.
Sixteen coaches have hyphenated last names, and 12 have a last name beginning with “Mc,” compared to just two “O’____” names.
The color wheel
Eight coaches have a color (or two) in their names, ranging from basic crayon colors to accent colors:
The great outdoors
In addition, several head coaches’ names reference nature, which is somewhat ironic given that they coach an indoor sport. Here are ten of the best:
Karen Barefoot, UNC Wilmington
Kenny Brooks, Virginia Tech
Katie Burrows, Chattanooga
Gene Hill, Georgia State
Mountain MacGillivray, La Salle
Katrina Merriweather, Wright State
Lisa Stone, Saint Louis
Morgan Valley, Hartford
Misty Wilson, Tarleton State
Doshia Woods, Denver
For the third straight year, these five names will make public address announcers and broadcasters double- and triple-check their pronunciations before games:
None are currently slated to play one another, but with schedules changing frequently due to COVID-19, stay tuned!
Almost, but not quite
Soccer fans might do a double take when they hear the name of St. Bonaventure’s women’s basketball coach Jesse Fleming, as it is nearly identical to that of Canadian national team and former UCLA soccer player Jessie Fleming.
Sticking to basketball, here are eight pairs of coaches who have names that sound similar to each other:
Gary Blair, Texas A&M, and Garry Brodhead, Louisiana
Sherri Coale, Oklahoma, and Kelly Cole, Northeastern
Jory Collins, North Dakota State, and Jody Craig, Monmouth
Molly Goodenbour, San Francisco, and Julie Goodenough, Abilene Christian
JD Gravina, Western Illinois, and JD Gustin, Dixie State
Teri Moren, Indiana, and Kelly Morrone, Merrimack
Cameron Newbauer, Florida, and Jon Newlee, Idaho
Charlotte Smith, Elon, and Charmin Smith, California
Two of a kind
These four pairs of coaches have names that don’t necessarily sound similar but fit together perfectly for other reasons:
Kevin Baker, UTEP, and Suzy Merchant, Michigan State
Mike Lane, NJIT, and Mike Neighbors, Arkansas
Amanda Levens, Nevada, and David Six, Hampton (If you need help with this one, here’s a hint: Levens’ Twitter handle is @Coach11S.)
Jada Pierce, Niagara, and Alaura Sharp, Presbyterian
Culture and values
Two years ago, I listed five coaches whose names reference attributes that may be important for building a program. All five are still active this season, though one—College of Charleston’s Robin Harmony—took over a new team in 2019.
Style of play
Louisville’s Jeff Walz, Maryland’s Brenda Frese (pronounced “freeze”), and Mississippi Valley’s Ashley Walker all have names that suggest a slow style of play, while Central Arkansas’ Sandra Rushing has a name that suggests a more up-tempo style. For Walker, that is accurate: her Devilettes are averaging 69.8 possessions per 40 minutes this season, which ranks 261st nationally out of 341 qualified teams. However, Frese and Walz’s teams rank 25th and 66th, respectively, in pace this season and Rushing’s ranks 180th, showing that coaches’ names don’t always match the product they put on the court.
Similarly, UTRGV’s Lane Lord and NJIT’s Mike Lane both have names that seemingly emphasize driving the ball into the lane. Indeed, these two teams rank 88th and 90th, respectively, in free throw rate, which suggests that their players are frequently getting into the lane and drawing fouls. NJIT also protects the lane fairly well on defense, ranking 146th in block rate.
Last but not least, UCLA has won its first nine games by an average of 19.7 points per game. That’s something head coach Cori Close is likely happy about, even though it doesn’t match her name. And Pac-12 rival Jody Wynn, who coached Washington to a 3-0 start this season, will try to notch her first “wynn”-ing season in four tries.
The 2020–21 All-Name Teams
For the past two seasons, I’ve shared my five favorite names in Division I women’s college basketball. This year, I expanded the list to ten by awarding first- and second-team honors. With five additional slots along with the retirement of two-time All-Name honoree Muffet McGraw at Notre Dame, plenty of spots were up for grabs. The burning question for regular readers of this series is: Was Julie Goodenough’s name finally good enough to win first-team honors?
Second Team All-Name
First Team All-Name
Just missed: Mike Neighbors, Arkansas; Robin Harmony, College of Charleston
All game statistics were compiled from Her Hoop Stats and reflect games through January 10.