Commentary

Coach G relishing chance to experience new "firsts"

Updated: November 16, 2007, 7:49 PM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

We all know we can't go back and recapture the "first time" we felt something. But, in some circumstances, maybe you can come close.

And that's one of the things Texas coach Gail Goestenkors is looking forward to in her new job with the Longhorns. When Texas faces Tennessee in Knoxville on Sunday (ESPN2, 3 p.m. ET), Goestenkors will be in a very familiar place but an unfamiliar role.

[+] EnlargeGail Goestenkors
AP Photo/Harry CabluckCoach G's Longhorns were an 8-seed on the S-Curve. But Texas got moved to a No. 7 to avoid meeting a fellow Big 12 team too early.

She'll feel like an "underdog" again, the way it was awhile back with Duke.

"Last year, when we beat Tennessee at Tennessee, it was a great crowd," Goestenkors said of the Blue Devils' 74-70 win in January. "I felt good after that game, but I didn't have that total sense of excitement and the thrill.

"And I think that's part of the reason I came [to Texas]. I want to help build again. I want to feel those moments again -- where it's the first time our players beat Tennessee or the first time that we go to the Final Four and those feelings that accompany that."

Neither of those things would be "firsts" for Texas, which has an 11-17 series record against Tennessee (the last Horns win was in 2004) and has been to the Final Four three times, winning the 1986 NCAA title.

But that was all under Jody Conradt, who's now playing a lot of golf and loving life. Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said that she hopes when the time comes, she can exit from the sidelines as happily as it appears Conradt has. (OK, Summitt might be about 127 years old then, but … )

In Goestenkors, Summitt is facing one of the few coaches who has a winning record against her. Duke was 5-4 vs.Tennessee in Goestenkors' time there, with the first meeting coming in 1998.

The most important of the Blue Devils' wins against Tennessee was the 1999 East Regional final, and it can't be overstated just how landmark that was at the time. Tennessee had won the past three NCAA titles; Chamique Holdsclaw was a senior, while Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall were sophomores.

Duke's program at that time was playing in just its sixth NCAA Tournament. Tennessee was a monumental favorite.

"That was the game that really legitimized our program at Duke," Goestenkors said. "That was one of those 'David and Goliath' games, and one of the best moments of my career."

Remember Goestenkors doing a celebratory chin-up on the rim at Greensboro Coliseum after that game? It was sheer, giddy ecstasy -- the kind that makes you say, "Is this really happening? It's even better than I expected!"

Contrast that to the final game Goestenkors coached at Duke -- which, ironically, also happened to be at Greensboro Coliseum. The shattering 53-52 loss to Rutgers in the Sweet 16 starkly pointed out the bittersweet nature of great success: It means the highs get harder to find and don't seem as "high," while the lows seem worse.

A couple of years ago, I asked UConn's Geno Auriemma about this -- how you lose that sense of real happiness over accomplishment after you've accomplished so much. When his Huskies won three NCAA titles in a row from 2002-2004, his feeling was more, "OK, whew, at least we didn't screw up," rather than, "Wow, we did it!"

Duke went from David to Goliath in Goestenkors' time there, even if the Blue Devils did not win a national title. And by the way, the spin out of certain "leaders" in Duke's athletic department trying to diminish Goestenkors' time there (while pretending that's not what they're doing) … such nonsense doesn't fool anybody. It simply confirms she had reason to leave.

Obviously, she had other reasons to go. Texas offered a lot of money, dazzling facilities and a new challenge. And coming close but not winning an NCAA title had become a ghost on Goestenkors' shoulder, one I have compared in the past to what men's coach Roy Williams had at Kansas.

He ditched the ghost in his second season at North Carolina. That would be a pretty difficult timetable for Goestenkors to match at Texas, which has missed the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons.

But … she'll be back in the "Goliath" position sooner than later.

So this is a different kind of special season for her, an interlude in some ways. Goestenkors wants to feel that "We did it!" sensation again, but only briefly. She doesn't want to be "David" for long. That was a transition stage at Duke, and will be again at Texas.

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.