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Lance White Out as Pitt Women’s Basketball Coach after 5 Seasons

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Pitt women's basketball coach Lance White watches his team play against Duke on Feb. 2, 2023 in Durham, N.C. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)
Pitt women's basketball coach Lance White watches his team play against Duke on Feb. 2, 2023 in Durham, N.C. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

After five seasons, Lance White’s tenure as the head coach of the women’s basketball team the University of Pittsburgh is coming to an end.

White will not return as the program’s head coach next season, multiple sources familiar with the situation told Pittsburgh Sports Now. Pitt later confirmed the move in a press release. The Panthers lost to Clemson on Wednesday in the first round of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, where Pitt was the lowest seed.

“Coach White has been wholeheartedly dedicated to the betterment of his student-athletes and women’s basketball at Pitt,” athletic director Heather Lyke said. “I’m extremely grateful for his efforts and wish him only the very best moving forward, both personally and professionally.

“In looking to the future of Pitt women’s basketball, our goal is to be a perennial contender in the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA Tournament. I am confident that Pitt’s strong combination of people, facilities and institutional excellence will attract some outstanding candidates to be the next leader of our women’s basketball program.”

The ninth head coach in the history of the Panthers’ program, White was hired by Lyke in April 2018 to succeed Suzie McConnell-Serio, who was fired after her third consecutive losing season. Pitt has now had eight straight losing campaigns.

“Coming into it, I knew it would be extremely difficult,” White said Monday during a Zoom call with ACC coaches. “You had to start it completely over. And obviously, COVID and the transfer portal really changed so much of the way I thought coming into it.”

Lyke hired White within a month of hiring Jeff Capel as the new coach of the men’s basketball program at Pitt. Capel endured four straight losing seasons, but guided the Panthers to a massive turnaround this year. The Pitt men are 21-9 overall this season and 14-5 in ACC play, poised to have a double-bye in the ACC Tournament next week and projected to make the NCAA Tournament.

Capel was able to save his job, but White could not.

Pitt was White’s first head coaching gig. He took the job after spending 15 seasons working under Sue Semrau at Florida State, where he garnered a reputation as being one of the nation’s top recruiters. With White on the bench, FSU went to 13 NCAA Tournaments. The Seminoles also won two regular season ACC titles and went to a trio of Elite Eights. In 2017, White was named National Assistant Coach of the Year by the WBCA. FSU saw 10 players get drafted by WNBA teams during White’s time there. And before FSU, White spent 11 seasons as an assistant under Marsha Sharp at his alma mater, Texas Tech, where the Red Raiders won three Big 12 titles during his time there.

But White’s success as a recruiter and assistant did not translate into winning at Pitt. White’s teams went 42-99 overall and 11-75 in ACC play. Under White, the team endured five losing streaks of nine or more games, including a 12-game slide in the 2019-20 season and a 10-game slump this past season. The Panthers went 1-5 in Greensboro, N.C. at the ACC Tournament under White.

On Monday, White said “consistency” was his toughest obstacle in trying to rebuild the program.

“It’s just the toll of just that every day, trying to build. And that’s through COVID, through players, through the transfer portal, through every bit of it,” White said. “Whenever you’re trying to reinvigorate a program, and you don’t have that history behind you, and you’ve really got to do it from the ground up – that’s probably been the biggest challenge. Just keeping that energy up to continue to believe in what you’re doing and still do it (while) you’re getting hit in the face a little bit with the ACC talent.”

Pitt’s best season under White may have been the 2021-22 season, when the Panthers entered January with a 9-4 record. But then Pitt won just two of their final 17 games as chemistry issues among players boiled to the surface. Before the regular season ended, the team’s leading scorer – prized transfer guard Jayla Everett – was dismissed from the team.

This season, Everett is the leading scorer – and an All-Big East second team selection – for a St. John’s team that is projected to make the NCAA Tournament. Another former Pitt player, forward Rita Igbokwe, is the leading shot-blocker on an Ole Miss team projected to dance in March too.

And while White was heralded for his recruiting prowess at Florida State, luring those same type of talented players to Pitt proved to be difficult. The Panthers landed just three ESPN Top 100 recruits during White’s tenure, and two of those players – Jahsyni Knight and Tracey Hueston – transferred after two seasons to mid-major programs. The third, Carnegie native Aislin Malcolm, averaged just 9.7 minutes per game this season and did not play in Pitt’s final two games.

In the midst of White’s tenure, the NCAA – largely because of the pandemic – loosened its restrictions on transfers and made the pathway to playing right away much easier, incentivizing more players to enter the portal. That change, White says, made him reevaluate his stance on how to build a program.

“Five years ago, you’re going to build it with freshmen and teach those kids. And then COVID happened, and then the transfer portal, and so, you’re immediately in the middle of it and had to switch course,” White said. “Now you’re not on a four-year system anymore; you’re on a one year. I think that’s been more difficult than just rebuilding and revitalizing the program. It really has made it a lot more difficult and I think this is the best the ACC has been in a long, long time, from top to bottom. It’s every night. It’s just a ferocious gauntlet of what you have to face.”

Despite all the losses, there were a handful of high points. When Pitt went 9-2 in non-conference play in the 2021-22 season, that was the best record the Panthers posted against non-ACC opponents since the 2009-10 season. Pitt was first in the ACC in rebounding in 2021-22. In 2020-21, Everett was an All-ACC selection, marking just the second player in program history to earn that honor. Pitt’s ACC Tournament win over Notre Dame in 2020 was just the second victory ever in the tournament for the program.

And four players from White’s first recruiting class stayed all four years in Amber Brown, Dayshanette Harris, Emy Hayford and Destiny Strother.

Brown will graduate this spring from Pitt with a bachelor’s degree in communications. She nearly quit the team at one point, but remained because of White’s encouragement. Brown has a year of eligibility left, but if she chooses to spend it elsewhere, she will depart the Panthers having started in every game she ever played in and as the fastest Pitt player in more than 20 years to accumulate at least 550 points, 450 rebounds and 100 assists. And she’ll leave Pitt with a ton of respect and admiration for White.

“He’s been amazing. We’ve been through a lot. I needed guidance coming in. He’s definitely been a father figure that’s had his hand on me,” Brown told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “Our relationship that we built – he’s going to be in my life for the rest of my life.”

White is well-liked and respected in women’s college basketball coaching circles. He should have no problem finding another high-level assistant job, if he wants it, multiple sources said.

In replacing White, the hire that Lyke makes could reveal what sort of investments Pitt is willing to make in women’s basketball, and what she thinks about the potential of the program. One assistant coach who has worked in women’s college basketball for more than a decade told Pittsburgh Sports Now that the job is “not very desirable at all.”

“Most would consider it a bottom (tier) Power 5 job,” the coach said. “Facilities are (average), lack of a real tradition, brutal league.”

A Power 5 assistant coach agreed that Pitt is “definitely tough” but pointed to Boston College as another difficult place to win too. West Virginia native Joanna Bernabei-McNamee was hired to lead the Eagles the same year White was hired at Pitt, and she’s posted a pair of seasons with 20 wins or more. Last season, the Eagles made the third round of the WNIT.

“You can win there, but it takes time and you have to get a certain type of kid,” a former ACC assistant coach said, adding that Pitt was “by far” the toughest job in ACC women’s basketball.

For Lyke, her challenge will be finding the right kind of coach that can turn Pitt into a winner.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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TJ
TJ
1 year ago

Best wishes Lance.

Kowboygoc
Kowboygoc
1 year ago

Women’s basketball and softball are the only negatives on Lykes resume. Now fix your hiring mistake and get someone in here that can coach and recruit. H2P.

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