MINNEAPOLIS — A chapter that began with a "home-state-girl-done-good" storyline is winding up with an ending that is less than happy, as the U of M cuts ties with Gophers women's basketball coach Lindsay Whalen.
In a released statement, Gophers Director of Athletics Mark Coyle and Whalen announced she will step down from her position as head coach immediately. Whalen and the U of M have reportedly agreed she will stay on as a special assistant to Coyle through April of 2025.
The announcement comes just one day after the Gophers lost to 13th-seed Penn State in the opening play-in game of the 2023 Big Ten Tournament in Minneapolis.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Lindsay," said Coyle. I want to thank Lindsay for her hard work and dedication as a player and as head coach of our women's basketball team. She is one of the greatest alums and ambassadors this University has ever produced and her legacy of being a Minnesota icon is etched in stone."
In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Coyle said after several conversations with Whalen over the past year about the program's direction, the decision for Whalen to step down was "mutual."
"It was in the best interest for our program, and for her as a person, that she stepped down," Coyle said. "We sat down and had a long conversation; we just felt like now is the right time."
While it was presumed Whalen would also speak at the press conference, Coyle said a "miscommunication" prevented her from attending, and that she was in talks with her staff.
Several hours later, Whalen tweeted out a statement saying she was "overcome with emotion" on her way to the event.
During the press conference, Coyle added that Whalen will still have the opportunity to work with the Gophers in some capacity and reiterated that both the school and athletes continue to have love and respect for her.
"She is so much loved in these hallways," he said. "She's an icon."
It was that icon status that arguably got Whalen the Gophers job with no prior coaching experience. She was a legend as the U of M's point guard from 2000-2004, leading the Gophers to their only Final Four appearance in program history. Whalen went on to win two gold medals with the U.S. Olympic team and played for her home-state Minnesota Lynx, where she helped secure four WNBA Championships.
"How an I not love her? And how can I not be sad? Whether they asked her to leave, or whether she chose to leave, she knows that right now seems to be the best idea," said local fan Peg Mitchell. "I admire her for that, and we'll miss her terribly."
The Hutchinson native announced her retirement from professional basketball in 2018 and took over the Gopher women's job from Marlene Stallings, compiling a record of 71-76 over five seasons, going 32-58 in the Big Ten.
"I am grateful to my assistant coaches and staff and want to thank them for everything they did for our student-athletes during the last five years," Whalen said in a statement. "We did things the right way and created a lot of memories, but now is the right time for me to step aside and return to being a proud alum."
A national search for Whalen's replacement will begin immediately.
"I want somebody who understands and does things the right way, but most importantly, provides a first-class experience to our student-athletes," Coyle said.
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