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Mittie arrives, eager to get started

By Joshua Kinder

Jeff Mittie knows exactly what his record was a year ago — TCU’s first year in the Big 12 — and believes he knows how he got it turned around this past season.

While the Horned Frogs were seventh in the Big 12 this season at 8-10 — earning a WNIT berth at 18-14 overall — there’s no disputing how much improvement TCU made after winning just two league games and finishing last in its Big 12 debut the year before.

Going just 9-21 overall that first year in the Big 12, those were hard lessons to learn going from the Mountain West to the one of the best conferences in America, but something Kansas State’s new women’s basketball coach said is necessary if you’re going to have a fighting chance in this league.

“I think I knew it Year 1, but the transition was just tough coming from the Mountain West,” Mittie said Wednesday during an interview with The Mercury. “When that game ends… I don’t talk to my team after the game but just very briefly. We don’t discuss anything other than, ‘I’m going to review the film, we’ll make adjustments and we’ll go from there.’

“I just think it’s important to turn the page onto the next game… That’s extremely important in the Big 12 because every night is a grind… It’s real easy to turn one loss into two losses, into three losses.”

That’s just part of the philosophy he intends to bring to K-State, taking over Tuesday following the dismissal of Deb Patterson on March 9 after leading the Wildcats to 350 victories and 13 postseason appearances in 18 seasons.

Mittie, who said contact with K-State began midway through last week, spent Wednesday touring the campus, the Basketball Training Facility, Bramlage Coliseum and most importantly, meeting with the majority of his new team.

Previously coaching at Arkansas State and Missouri Western, Mittie inherits a young group led by All-Big 12 freshman point guard Leti Romero. Assuming there’s no unexpected roster turnover, the Wildcats would return eight players who were either freshmen or sophomores this past season, as well as key veterans Bri Craig, Ashia Woods and Haley Texada.

Acknowledging it’s still early in the process, Mittie said he doesn’t want to lose anyone, but that it has to be the right fit for everyone involved.

“I think all these young ladies, from my initial conversations with them, have been very positive,” said Mittie, who won more than 300 games at TCU in 15 years. “That’s pleasing to me because I think this team has tremendous capabilities going forward…

“All those things, from an initial meeting, were fantastic, which I believe is probably a relief to them, to have some clarity. I just wanted to share my thoughts on where we go from here.”

From here, Mittie will look to hiring a coaching staff. The first step, he said, will be to visit with and evaluate the current K-State coaching staff, which officially remains under contract through the end of next month.

“I want to get their thoughts, evaluate the staff here and go from there first,” he said. “I want to make sure I don’t move too fast, but also move fast enough that we get a staff in here for this team.”

It’s a good bet current TCU assistants are now in the running for positions after being eliminated from the WNIT by Colorado Wednesday night. It’s obviously not clear yet if any of Patterson’s assistants would be asked to stay — or want to stay — and work with Mittie, though the chances of Shalee Lehning remaining on the K-State sideline appear slim.

A common belief is that retaining part of the existing staff would benefit the young group of players presumably coming back next season, perhaps even in an attempt to dissuade some from transferring.

“I met with the girls today and they just want good quality people, the same thing I want for a staff,” Mittie said. “So, (keeping existing staff) is valuable if everything is a fit. If it’s not a fit, it’s more important to get the fit.”

It’s highly unlikely any core piece of K-State’s current staff would stay anyway, as they’ve been aligned with Patterson for so long — Kamie Ethridge (18 years), Kelly Moylan (8 years) and Lehning (5 years).

However, multiple sources have told The Mercury that second-year director of operations Claire Coggins, as well as director of video operations Tasha Dickey have already agreed to stay on board in some capacity.

“I’ve kind of known Claire for a little bit, ” Mittie said. “She’s a great young lady, was a talented player and somebody K-State fans love and adore and she worked for a friend of mine at Oklahoma City — we played them in an exhibition game.

“Claire is someone I have a familiarity with, but she and I haven’t had a ton of conversations, any conversations with her in this process yet.”

Hiring a coaching staff is part of every transition process when there is change at the top. But taking over a program following the dismissal of its all-time winningest coach — one that includes a pair of Big 12 titles, nine 20-win seasons, 10 AP All-Americans and 41 All-Big 12 selections — presents a unique challenge for any new coach.

“You just have to be yourself,” Mittie said. “I want all the past Kansas State players to come back and take pride in the Cats and I’ll certainly talk about those things, but I’ll just be myself, let them see my family and let them want to be part of that. It’s the same thing with the fan base.

“But my eyes are going forward, too, and that’s what I want to share with the people, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re going to do going forward, here’s how we’re going to play, we’re going to play it the right way and represent Kansas State the right way, and hope you want to be part of it.’”

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