Does Borton Deserve To Stay?

Nine days ago on this Balls! blog, my colleague Jim Walsh wrote a brief but spirited defense of Gophers' women's basketball coach Pam Borton, who was rocked by a slew of players leaving the squad after the season concluded last month. I kept meaning to join the commentary that followed, but was busy with other deadlines and the moment passed. Now, belatedly, I'll offer a couple of things that for some reason haven't been reported in other media--at least not in any outlets I've seen.

First, although it was briefly reported by Jay Weiner in the Strib that Borton faced a similar mini-mutiny among players when she coached at Vermont, the circumstances weren't really fleshed out. For years, Borton was an assistant coach at Vermont under a woman named Cathy Inglese, who put together a powerhouse, going undefeated for two consecutive years--53 regular season victories in a row--before parlaying her success into a gig as head coach at Boston College.

As Inglese's loyal assistant, Borton was flipped the keys to a small college dynamo in May 1993. And how did she fare? Well, Vermont won its conference for a couple years, but finished second in both the 95-96 and 96-97 seasons. In her four years at the helm, Borton's record was 69-46. That's a far cry from 53-0, eh?

At the end of that fourth year, Borton was confronted by the transfer of two players, and another who was threatening to transfer. It was at this point that Borton decided to rejoin Inglese as an assistant coach at Boston College. When the issue was raised at the time Borton was hired to coach the Gophs, it was spun that Borton made the move to position herself for a big college job--and who could argue with that rationale, since she was in fact being hired for a big college job? But let's get serious for a moment. Borton had taken a powerhouse and, after winning using Inglese's recruits, turned it into a mere conference contender. The players she had recruited were in open rebellion. How had she proven herself enough in Vermont to call the transfer to BC a step up? For that matter, how does becoming an assistant to someone you've already had success assisting better position you for career advancement? Looking over this record, it is a wonder why the Gophers hired her in the first place.

So Borton comes to Minnesota and history looks to be repeating itself. Using the top recruits of her predecessors, including future WNBA pros such as Lindsey Whalen and Janell McCarville, Borton enjoyed success early in her tenure. With her own recruits, the record has started to falter and the players have started to become disgruntled. As was noted in the commentary following Walsh's post, five of the seven players recruited by Borton have transferred out to high-quality programs.

What's done is done: the unhappy players are gone and the U of M administration has expressed its support for Pam Borton. Time will tell whether or not that was a wise decision. But given her history, it is now up to Borton to prove why she should have been hired for this job in the first place. At stake is the enormous gain in profile and revenue that the Lady Gophers experienced in the past three years.

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