Goestenkors mulling over monumental decision

Updated: April 1, 2007, 2:09 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

CLEVELAND -- In journalism, we're supposed to be prepared for anything. So I've got two stories written and stored on my computer. One is called "Gail stays" and the other "Gail leaves."

As we wait to find out which decision coach Gail Goestenkors will make -- stay at Duke or go to Texas -- know this: This situation is very, very difficult for her.

Some folks will see the dollar signs that Texas has tossed out and think, "Wow, what's stopping her? I'd already be trying to pick which ritzy Austin neighborhood I want to live in."

  This is a monumental and agonizing choice for Goestenkors. It's a decision she has more than earned the right to make -- and have respected by everyone. 

But that suggests that money is her primary motivation, and it absolutely isn't.

Obviously, everybody wants to maximize earning potential. But what Goestenkors values more than anything is having her players and the program's support personnel treated first-class. You won't find a head coach who cares more about the people -- players and staff -- around her than Goestenkors does. That's part of the reason she has been so successful: People go to the wall for her because they know she'll always do the same for them.

When people talk about how she built the Duke program from the ground up, some of them are citing what they've read or heard, taking that history for granted. But some of us saw it firsthand, in real time, with our own eyes.

Duke had a very dedicated coach named Debbie Leonard before Goestenkors arrived in the spring of 1992. Leonard was one of those coaches who had to knock down enormous barriers just to get the simplest things. She knew someone younger had to come in to try to take the Duke program beyond what she had done. So she stepped down and hoped for the best.

The search committee didn't recommend Goestenkors, then a Purdue assistant, to former athletic director Tom Butters. He still read through all the résumés of applicants, and hers stood out. She got the job, and within two years Duke had started what's now a 13-year run of NCAA Tournament appearances. The Blue Devils had been to the Big Dance only once before Goestenkors became coach.

I lived in ACC country when Goestenkors took over in Durham. And by her second season, the small band of reporters -- and some loyal fans -- who followed ACC women's basketball would chat about how something was brewing at Duke. When the Blue Devils beat Virginia in overtime in the semifinals of the 1995 ACC tournament in Rock Hill, S.C., it was monumental in a way that anyone who was there will always remember. We all said, "Duke's on the way up and will never look back."

Soon after that victory, I sat down and had a long conversation with Goestenkors for the first time. Duke had just lost to Alabama 121-120 in four overtimes in the second round of the 1995 NCAA Tournament, and of course it wasn't on television. I went to Duke and watched the team's game tape so I could write about it in my weekly newspaper column.

Goestenkors had barely slept in the three days since the game; every time she tried, key sequences kept running through her mind. And you can imagine how many key sequences there were in a quadruple-overtime game. I was a little worried she'd be awake for another week.

Tired as she looked, she was friendly and engaging. She asked where I was from, and told me she had some family connections in Missouri. I joked that she must have a magic touch, because the only year Iowa State had been any good (this was just before Bill Fennelly came in and revitalized that program) was the season she had been a graduate assistant for the Cyclones.

I don't think it took any kind of great insight on my part to go back and tell my editor that the next fall, I wanted to do a big story on how you build a women's basketball program from a mouse into a powerhouse. And it was going to be about Duke.

Now it's 12 years later, and Goestenkors' Duke program has done even more than I envisioned it could have back then. No, she hasn't won her first national championship yet, but that's coming.

Whether it will be at Duke or Texas is the question. Goestenkors went to college in the 1980s, and she saw Texas then the same way most of us who are now in our 40s did: the pinnacle of women's college athletics. A place where there was leadership and vision that greatly aided not just the Longhorns but female athletes everywhere.

Yet Duke is the place she has poured her heart and soul into for 15 years. It's a program synonymous with her name.

This is a monumental and agonizing choice for Goestenkors. It's a decision she has more than earned the right to make -- and have respected by everyone.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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