Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Hall of Famere Van Chancellor Rumored to take over Women's Basketball at LSU

LSU's women can't take another step in the NCAA Tournament until they take the final step of this season, the most important one of the season, the one in which a new coach will be hired to lead the program to the one game previous coaches haven't been able to lead it to.

The hot rumor is that Van Chancellor, the former coach of the four-time WNBA champion Houston Comets, wants the job, and all things considered, the folksy, Baptist preacher sound-alike probably is about as good a choice as any. All other geniuses have jobs, likely are being compensated as well or better as LSU plans to pay and have as good a chance or better of advancing to the Final Four from where they are as they would have in Baton Rouge.

And Chancellor is a proven winner.

Fortunately for him, or whoever gets the job, proven winners will be part of the inheritance at LSU. The Lady Tigers have been to four consecutive Final Fours, and while the result of each appearance has been nothing to remember -- the four national semifinal losses have become increasingly more lopsided -- next season might present LSU with its best chance to win it all.

There isn't a senior on the roster, and most players have been to multiple Final Fours. LSU will return the best center, and arguably the best player, in the nation in Sylvia Fowles.

And there's the hurt factor.

"It was a very emotional locker room," acting head coach Bob Starkey said Sunday night after LSU's 59-35 loss to Rutgers. "Every kid was crying, and this is the fourth Final Four we have been to.

"We have lost three previous Final Fours, and I had never seen a tear in there. I think they were not just crying for themselves, but crying for each other. And I think it will be a great motivational factor for them. I think you'll see that they will have a great offseason. They're going to work hard. I think that obviously this team's best days are ahead of it.

"I think it hurt, and I think that's a good hurt. I'm glad they hurt. I think that's important in terms of them being competitive and being able to take that next step. I think this team is more prepared to take the next step than any team that we have had prior."

But, obviously, the right coach has to be directing the steps, one that is smart enough to tinker without damaging a successful formula.

Starkey isn't interested in expanding his role as acting head coach, and since that's his choice, it's the best one. Maybe, a new coach will consider his presence a threat -- Starkey obviously will have a better, more personal relationship with the players than a new university employee, who might prefer an assistant who wields less locker room influence and is less of a father figure to players.

But Starkey has proven how much of an asset he can be. The new coach will want his or her own staff, of course, but there always should be room for an egoless soldier who is more interested in breaking down video, preparing game plans and tutoring players in practice than he is in making speeches and chasing headlines.

"I did tell them that if I never coached again that I was thrilled that this was the last team that I coached," he said. "And if I coached for 20 more years, I would never forget what they had accomplished."

Indeed, it was a memorable ride, save the crash landing. But there isn't much time to savor the former or lament the latter.

There's another step -- a really big one -- that remains to be taken with regard to the NCAA Tournament. But making that move next season, or in some season after that, can't and won't be taken until LSU's athletic administration takes the final step of this season and hires a coach.

The right person is crucial, and Chancellor probably is as good as any candidate on the market. And he, or someone else, will be fortunate to inherit a roster of players capable of making them look even better than they already are.

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