Taking over at Texas, Take 2

DENVER _ Coaches taking a new position often will use the phrase “dream job,” prompting eye rolls from a few of us more cynical media folks. Because of all the times we’ve seen coaches leave one “dream job” for another “dream job.”

With Karen Aston and Texas, though, there is no doubt that today really is a dream come true: She is, after more than two decades in the profession, the head coach at the place she wants to be more than anywhere.

Aston was officially announced as boss of the Longhorns on Tuesday, the same day that another Big 12 school, Baylor, is playing for a national championship here in the Mile High City.

Was the timing was coincidental or on purpose? Whatever the case, the contrast is striking. Baylor, the program that once was at the bottom of the old Southwest Conference that was ruled by Texas, has been atop the women’s hoops world this season. Texas struggled through a disappointing year marred by injuries and talk of coach Gail Goestenkors’ future.

It was five years ago today – April 3, 2007 – that Goestenkors informed Duke’s administration that she was leaving the Blue Devils to take over at Texas. That was a job Aston had hoped to get then. She had spent the 2006-07 season as associate head coach at Baylor after being on the Texas staff the previous eight years, but you could say that her eye was on Texas for long, long time.

But Texas’ thought process in 2007 when longtime coach Jody Conradt retired was to go get the most successful head coach in the country that the Longhorns thought they could lure away. Goestenkors, with four Final Four appearances at Duke, fit that description.

We know now that it didn’t work out, and the success of Baylor and last year’s NCAA champion, Texas A&M, is part of the reason why. Next to what Baylor and A&M were doing, Texas’ inability to get past the second round of the NCAA tournament under Goestenkors didn’t cut it with Longhorns fans. Much of this season, she looked pretty miserable, and made – I think – the right move personally and professionally by stepping down on March 26.

So now the Texas went a different direction than the school did in going after Goestenkors. Aston isn’t the “name” that Goestenkors was, but everyone who’s really into women’s basketball knows her.

Aston took the old-school path to this peak. An Arkansas native, she started as a high school coach in the late 1980s after finishing her college playing career at Arkansas-Little Rock.

Her success in the prep ranks led to an assistant’s job at Baylor working for Sonja Hogg in 1994. Aston then spent 13 years in the assistants’ ranks_  all in the Lone Star State at Baylor, North Texas and Texas.

Then she took the step up to had coach. After four years in Charlotte and this past season in North Texas, Aston is finally at the summit she seemed to always want to reach. And in some ways, her work begins anew.

Baylor will bring all five of its starters back for next season. TCU comes into the Big 12, which will raise that school’s profile and should bolster its recruiting. While Texas A&M leaves for the SEC and won’t be a direct competitor on the court for Texas in Big 12 play, Gary Blair will still be just as large a recruiting presence in the state.

Aston’s biggest advantage over Goestenkors is location, location, location. Aston has spent so much time living in and recruiting in Texas that she hits the ground running in a way that Goestenkors really could not have done.

It seems to me that Aston deserves this chance. She has the contacts and the relationships already built in the state. Now, let’s see what she can do with the job that’s long been on her mind.


About mvoepel

Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women's college basketball and other college sports for ESPN.com.
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