Deb Patterson would light up this season whenever she was asked about the potential of her young Wildcats, rarely passing on the chance to praise the growth of a group of talented freshmen led by All-Big 12 selection Leti Romero.
But potential wasn’t enough was to save Patterson’s job after the Kansas State women’s basketball team finished the season with an 87-84 overtime loss to rival Kansas in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament on Friday night in Oklahoma City.
On Sunday, K-State athletic director John Currie announced the decision to fire the program’s winningest coach in history following the Wildcats’ first losing season in five years, finishing 11-19 overall and 5-13 in the Big 12.
Currie met with Patterson at the team hotel in Oklahoma City following the loss to the Jayhawks on Friday and informed the longtime Wildcat coach of his decision to go in another direction, ending an 18-year run for Patterson at K-State that included Big 12 titles in 2004 and 2008 and 13 postseason appearances.
“As we went through the evaluative process, I just felt that were not on a trajectory back to the level of achievement that we have experienced in our history and that it was time for new leadership in our program,” Currie said.
Currie specifically pointed to the last five seasons as a downward turn he wasn’t comfortable with going forward, despite making a pair of NCAA tournament appearances and advancing to the WNIT semifinals during that span.
“To be honest, I never foresaw this day,” Currie said. “I always thought we’d be doing another (contract) at some point. As the year unfolded and you kind of look at where we’ve been over the last five years, it just didn’t feel right about the transition, and I felt like it was time.”
Patterson had a 350-226 record at K-State — 144 more victories than any other coach in the program’s history — and leaves behind a roster that included eight players who were either freshmen or sophomores this past season, many of whom could opt to transfer because of allegiances to the former staff.
“Anytime you have transition, you have the potential to have roster turnover,” Currie said. “But we’re making decisions that we truly believe are in the best interest of the program and the student-athletes and do strive to provide a world-class student-athlete experience, and experiencing success on the court or on the field is part of that, which comes back to why we made the decision.”
The remaining staff will stay on until a new coach is hired, with associate head coach Kamie Ethridge serving as interim coach to oversee day-to-day operations of the program.
Currie said there is no set timetable to find a new coach, but that he will “move quickly.”
“I can’t promise it’ll be 100 hours like the last time we went through one of these processes,” Currie said, referencing his quick hiring of Bruce Weber after Frank Martin left K-State for South Carolina in 2012. “But it will be as expeditious as possible, thorough, and we will move to get this thing done just as soon as we can. When you have student-athletes who are 18 to 22 years old, who are going through a transition like this, it’s a very difficult time and it’s a time of uncertainty.
“So, just like the last time we went through a transition, we want to minimize that time of uncertainty for the student-athlete, so they can begin the next step.”
Patterson led the Wildcats to nine NCAA tournaments — including the Sweet 16 in 2002 — and the WNIT championship in 2006. In all, the two-time Big 12 Coach of the Year won at least 20 games nine times, averaging more than 24 wins a season from 2002-09.
The program fell on hard times the last two seasons, however, plagued by a rash of injuries a year ago and the youngest roster this season since 1978. Because of season-ending injuries to five players, the Wildcats went the final 70 days — 19 games — last year with seven players and still advanced to the WNIT semifinals to finish 19-18 overall. The 11 wins this year marked the fewest victories under Patterson since her second season in Manhattan (1997-98).
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