School ties count in Lady Lions' coaching search

Updated: January 31, 2008, 8:21 PM ET
Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Rene Portland had been almost as much a sports fixture at Penn State as football coach Joe Paterno -- the man who hired her 27 years ago.

Now that she has resigned, speculation in Happy Valley now turns to who will next coach the Lady Lions.

School ties count for a lot at Penn State, so the top candidate might just be one of the program's best players: Suzie McConnell Serio.

Not only is McConnell Serio the school's career assists leader, but she's been a successful head coach, too.

Athletic director Tim Curley didn't want to offer specific hints on just what he's looking for in a new hire.

"At this point, I really don't want to comment on any specific candidate," Curley said Thursday. "We are going to search the country for the best possible candidate and I don't know where that's going to end up."

McConnell Serio served as a color analyst during some Big Ten games this year after she resigned in 2006 as coach of the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx. She was the league's coach of the year in 2004, and guided Minnesota to two playoff appearances in three-plus seasons.

She doesn't want to speculate about her future either. She told the Centre Daily Times in Friday's editions that while she enjoyed television work, she might consider going back into coaching.

"Right now, I can't think about it," she said when asked about the Penn State job. "All my thoughts right now are with Rene and how she's doing with her family."

Portland, who resigned Wednesday, built a very successful program after being hired by Paterno in 1980 during the football coach's tenure as athletic director.

Paterno said he hadn't spoken to Portland since her resignation.

"She's doing what she wants to do," he said Friday during the first day of spring football practice. "If she wants to get out of it, she wants to get out of it ... but she's done a great job."

But part of Portland's problem was that the team's record slipped below the .500 mark the last couple season. She was also dogged throughout her career by allegations that she discriminated against lesbian players.

Most recently, former player Jennifer Harris filed a lawsuit in December 2005 claiming that Portland had a "no-lesbian" policy on her team, and that she was forced to leave the program. Portland denied those charges and said that the departure was only related to basketball issues.

Harris, Portland and Curley, another defendant, reached an out-of-court settlement late last month.

Portland leaves behind a team that loses two forwards -- senior leader Amanda Brown and defensive specialist Charity Renfro. In its current makeup, next year's squad may find it tough-going in the paint, though wing player Kamela Gissendanner, point guard Brianne O'Rourke and promising freshman Tyra Grant should return.

Up in the air is the fate of Portland's assistants, who started meeting with Curley on Friday.

Curley could turn to two of Portland's assistants, Annie Troyan and Susan Robinson Fruchtl, to take over if he wanted to minimize any more upheaval in the program.

"We're trying to find the best coach for Penn State," Curley said. "This is a partnership. Penn State is a unique school and I want to make sure that we identify that person that we feel meets all the criteria that we've established in a coach."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press