Cats' next coach is likely working this weekend
Most of the time in this business you don’t cheer for anything or root for anyone. That’s written in stone in Journalism 101.
But human nature sometimes intervenes. You root for the best story. And the best sports story in Tucson this spring would be walking into a McKale Center press conference this week to see Greg Byrne standing next to Pima College women’s basketball coach Todd Holthaus.
“I scoured the country looking for a coach,” Byrne would say. “And I found him right under my nose. Todd Holthaus is the new women’s basketball coach at Arizona.”
That’s not going to happen. After coaching the Aztecs to third place in the NJCAA finals last month, Holthaus will remain at Pima. To Byrne’s credit, he spent a Saturday night watching PCC win the regional championship, and later invested 3½ hours interviewing Holthaus.
It’s rare that a Power 5 conference school hires a local coaching hero. In 1996, the Oklahoma Sooners hired 31-year-old Norman High School girls basketball coach Sherri Coale. She has since gone to three Final Fours and taken her team to 17 consecutive NCAA tournaments. She’s an exception.
You can probably watch Byrne’s choice to replace Niya Butts during a championship-level TV game this week.
It might go this way:
1. Ryan McCarthy, Alaska Anchorage. The 33-year-old McCarthy will coach the 38-2 Seawolves into the NCAA Division II championship game Monday afternoon. His teams have gone 67-4 the last two seasons after picking up the pieces in 2012-13 when the school’s former coach was found to have broken NCAA rules. McCarthy, who played and coached at a small school in Idaho, is familiar with Arizona; his top scorer, Megan Mullings, was an all-conference power forward at the ACCAC’s South Mountain College. And McCarthy is affordable: His first Alaska contract was $70,000.
2. Adia Barnes, Washington. Byrne wouldn’t hire Barnes merely because she is Arizona’s career leading scorer in women’s basketball. He would do so because, at 39, she has become an accomplished coach and personality as an assistant coach at Washington, which will play Syracuse in Sunday’s Final Four. On the opposite bench in that game, Orange assistant coach Vonn Read, 43, is an intriguing job prospect. He coached on three tournament teams at Kentucky when Byrne was a UK assistant athletic director. He has also coached in the NBA and WNBA, specifically with the Phoenix Mercury.
3. Amy Williams, South Dakota. Some big-school AD will soon hire Williams, 40, who led the Coyotes to a win in Saturday’s Women’s NIT championship game. She was a standout player at Nebraska when Bill Byrne, Greg’s father, was the Cornhuskers’ AD. Her team finished this year 32-6, which included an 88-54 rout over Oregon in the semifinals. She’s also affordable. Her salary this year was $180,000.
4. Steve Gomez, Lubbock Christian. His team is 34-0 and ranked No. 1 entering the Division II championship game. His last three teams have gone a combined 80-8 in LCU’s first experience in Division II basketball.
Arizona has never employed a male coach for women’s basketball. Five women — Judy LeWinter, Wendy Larry, June Olkowski, Joan Bonvicini and Butts — have coached the UA for the last three decades.
But perhaps times are changing. For the first time in history, all of the Final Four teams are coached by men, including both Pac-12 entries, Scott Rueck of Oregon State and Washington’s Mike Neighbors.