In what is somewhat a shocking move, considering how embedded she was perceived to be in the fabric of the athletic department, John Currie has fired K-State women's basketball head coach Deb Patterson. Patterson was informed Friday evening following the loss to Kansas, but the situation was kept quiet until the team could return home and exhale for a day.
Patterson, who went 350-226 in 18 years at the helm, is a two-time Big 12 Coach of the Year and led the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament nine times. Those tournament stays were never long-lived, however, despite often carrying a high seed into the field. Further, there were problems in the program itself, as noted in a 2006 article by the Star's Mechelle Voepel (which has been unearthed at Web Archive).
That paragraph may sound like a takedown on my part, but it's really only intended as background. Patterson did a great deal for the K-State program, which for a glorious decade was nationally-relevant in the same manner as the more prominent program over at Vanier: no national championships, not much post-season success, but always in the discussion. During that decade, as the men's team floundered and the baseball program was really just getting built, Deb Patterson was quite possibly the third- or fourth-most important person on campus, behind only Bill Snyder and whoever happened to be occupying the President's and Athletic Director's chairs. In the end, one only has to absorb two facts to comprehend that ultimately Deb Patterson's presence in Manhattan was positive, but at the same time perhaps see that the time has come for change. Three years ago, K-State became only the 13th team to reach 800 wins. Today, 14 teams have more wins all-time. That's a downward trajectory.
This was not an easy decision for Currie, and represents his first actual firing of a coach. But it was, in his mind and in the minds of many others, necessary. The team was coming off consecutive 5-13 campaigns in conference. A raft of talented freshmen played well, but weren't progressing as a team as well as their counterparts on the other side of Bramlage; that dichotomy surely played a role in the decision.
Contrary to initial reports, only Patterson was relieved. Associate head coach Kamie Ethridge takes over as interim head coach, and the rest of the staff is still employed... for now. A national search will begin immediately, and if Currie's hiring of Bruce Weber is any indication at all, there will be some effort to retain at least partial continuity with the past even if the head coach herself (or himself) represents a break from internal candidates.
(This article was expanded from its original single paragraph at 6:00pm CT.)