Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth specifically proclaimed Thursday that the women’s basketball opening is the best available job in the country.
He then declined to give any specifics about how many people have applied or whether he’s reached out to any other athletic directors to inquire about other coaches to lead the Bulldogs, who finished 29-5 and ranked No. 22 in the final USA Today coaches’ poll.
“We are trying to find the right person who happens to be the right coach,” Roth said. “We’d be foolish not to look at our own and make sure that person is not already here.”
Roth thanked Kelly Graves for the 14 years where he turned a losing program into a 10-year conference winner and a top-25 power that has made two Sweet 16s and one Elite Eight in a run of six straight trips to the NCAA tournament.
After Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens did not renew the contract for 75-year-old coach Paul Westhead, Roth said he expected to him to inquire about Graves.
That call from Mullens came just after Gonzaga lost in the first round to James Madison. Graves made the decision Monday to join Oregon and left Gonzaga searching for his replacement.
“I hope to have it completed as soon as possible,” Roth said of the search. “We have players who want to know. We have players we want to sign who want to know. We are the only top-25 job that’s open.”
Roth wouldn’t guess how many coaches he and associate athletic director Heather Gores have spoken to about the job. He also wouldn’t say whether he’d contacted any other athletic directors.
“I’m not aware of anybody on our list who isn’t a coach someplace,” he said. “I don’t want to advertise who they are.”
Earlier this week, Graves said he hopes Roth considers current assistant coaches Jodie Kaczor Berry and Lisa Mispley Fortier. Roth indicated he would but said he wouldn’t limit the search to in-house candidates.
Gonzaga has even more pressure to find a coach with a looming recruiting deadline coming next. Wednesday is the spring signing period for recruits to sign letters of intent.
“I’m not sure we’ll have anything happen until next week,” Roth said. “But by next weekend would be great. I’m not saying we’ll be able to get there.”
Gonzaga has three players who have already signed letters of intent.
Georgia Stirton, a 5-8 guard from Melbourne, Australia, earlier told The Spokesman-Review she intends to honor her commitment to transfer to Gonzaga from North Idaho College.
But Lexi Bando, a 5-9 guard from Willamette High School in Eugene, may be a tougher sell.
Her coach, Paul Brothers, said earlier this week Bando was “hurt and upset” when Graves left for Oregon.
“I wouldn’t be surprised that she at least would seek input from others who recruited her,” he said.
Bando had narrowed the search down to Oregon, Oregon State and Utah before choosing Gonzaga. But Brothers said he doesn’t expect to hear a new pitch for the Ducks from Graves.
“My guess, knowing Kelly, is he’s not going to do anything that hurts Gonzaga,” Brothers said.
In addition to Bando and Stirton, Gonzaga has a written commitment from Jill Barta, a 6-foot-3 forward from Fairfield, Mont. Efforts to reach her this week were unsuccessful.
But the Bando and Stirton commitments become even more important because Gonzaga lost senior starting guards Haiden Palmer and Jazmine Redmon. And, top point guard backups Danielle Walter and Maiki Viela are not returning for their senior seasons.
The Zags do have guard Keani Albanez set to return for her senior season. But Graves earlier had said he was going to have to rely on youth at point guard next year.
Without naming who, Graves earlier indicated that he has a verbal commitment from another player from Canada. And sources indicated that a couple more recruits could be in play on singing day next Wednesday.
Roth also said he had not received any requests from current players to transfer to other programs.
“We hope they continue to want to play here,” Roth said of the recruits. “There is no reason to have discussions with those ladies until we have a coach.”
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