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Is the Joanna Bernabei-McNamee Hire a Win or a Loss for Boston College?

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I’m optimistic about BC women’s basketball’s new head coach...

NCAA Womens Basketball: Boston College at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

With the announcement of BC’s new women’s basketball coach today, there are going to be a lot of questions. The biggest question is whether or not this is a coaching choice that should have fans excited or concerned. As someone who has followed this program for years, I remain cautiously optimistic. Here’s why:

  • Bernabei-McNamee has significant recruiting experience. This is the big one for me. There is no reason for BC to struggled with recruiting as much as they have. Boston College is a top school with a pretty campus located right outside a major city. Our basketball facilities aren’t the most up to date, but academics and location are big pluses. A coach who has recruited good players to a variety of programs (ranging from Maryland to Eastern Kentucky to Albany) should be able to successfully recruit good players to a campus with a lot to offer like BC. Her recruiting record at Maryland included 4 nationally ranked recruiting classes and 3 top 10 recruiting classes.
  • Bernabei-McNamee knows how to win and has a proven track record of helping teams to improve. If there is one thing BC needs, it is a coach that can help the team improve both over the season and from year to year. In 6 years as a head coach, Bernabei-McNamee has 4 seasons with 20+ wins. She won 18 games in her first year as a head coach (at West Virginia Wesleyan) and only 14 in her first season at Pikeville. But she won 23 games in her second season at Pikeville and 26 in her final season with the team. She then went to Albany where she won 21 games her first year and 24 games her second year. BC hasn’t won 20+ games since 2010-11, so fans shouldn’t expect to immediately see that kind of improvement. But given a few seasons, Bernabei-McNamee might be able to get us there.
  • Bernabei-McNamee seems to be well respected by her peers. She was the 2017 Basketball Coaches Association of New York Women’s D1 Coach of the Year, the 2016 Women’s Basketball Coaches Association NAIA Regional Coach of the Year, and the 2015 Mid-South Conference Coach of the Year. BC’s press release includes quotes from a number of Bernabei-McNamee’s previous bosses/co-workers. Mark Benson, Albany’s AD calls her “a star in our business.” Maryland’s HC Brenda Frese says that Bernabei-McNamee is “an energetic, tireless worker who will pour her heart and soul into the team and program.” West Virginia’s coach, Mike Carey, called her “a great coach and recruiter” who will be “a terrific addition for both Boston College and the ACC.” Jeff Walz, who coaches at Louisville and worked with Bernabei-McNamee at Maryland told bceagles.com that she is “a proven winner.” Seeing the respect she has gained from such successful colleagues suggests that Bernabei-McNamee does have something great to offer BC.
  • It is tough to get a top assistant coach to leave his or her school in women’s basketball. While it would be great to get an assistant from a powerhouse school like UConn or Notre Dame as head coach, many WBB assistant coaches do not want to be head coaches. They get paid solid money at those top schools and get to work with winning coaches. Additionally, many women’s basketball coaches are reluctant to move their families when they already have a good gig. I think a lot of people had slightly unrealistic expectations for this hire, and I think that (at least on paper) Bernabei-McNamee seems like a promising choice.
  • I wasn’t sold on the rumored hire, Amanda Butler. Butler was fired from Florida last season and didn’t coach this year. By all accounts, she was fired because she wasn’t able to do enough with the program despite being given all the resources she could need to create a top ranked team. That doesn’t sound like a winning combination with BC, where the coach is going to have to work really hard to build up the program. I’m happier with this hire.
  • I trust Martin Jarmond. I know from speaking to Jarmond that he wants BC women’s basketball to be a winning team again and believes that the Eagles should be able to have a competitive team. Whether Bernabei-McNamee is intended to be a transitional coach that gets the team to a point where bigger name coaches are interested in taking over or whether he believes she can take the team all the way to excellence herself, I don’t think he would hire someone for this program that he didn’t believe had the skills to succeed.

I know I have a reputation as being the eternal optimist at BCI and I’m sure people will disagree with me on this, but I’m going into next season hopeful. I don’t think any coach could turn things around for the Eagles in less than 2 or 3 seasons, but I believe we’ll see improved fundamentals from the players we have as the season goes on and I’m crossing my fingers for some good recruiting news.