The line of reasoning for hiring Cynthia Cooper-Dyke as USC’s next women’s basketball coach is pretty simple.
She’s an alumna and a “USC basketball icon,” as Athletic Director Pat Haden put it last Thursday when the hire was announced.
That is, of course, true. If there was a Mount Rushmore for USC women’s basketball, Cooper-Dyke’s face would be sculpted into the granite alongside that of other program greats, such as Cheryl Miller and Lisa Leslie.
While at USC, Cooper-Dyke won two NCAA championships as a member of the 1983 and 1984 teams. During her four seasons on campus, the Women of Troy compiled a 114-15 mark.
After leaving the college ranks, the Los Angeles native and Locke High School graduate won an Olympic gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Summer Games, in addition to four WNBA titles as a member of the Houston Comets.
Now, she’s a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and returning to Southern California.
“If you were to ask me what my dream job was at any point in my coaching career, I would always have said my dream is to come back and lead the USC women’s basketball team,” she said during a conference call with reporters Friday.
This is the type of language you hear when schools hire an alum. From the coach, you hear about “dream jobs.” From the school, you hear about how he or she “understands the culture” and “knows what it will take to win here.” They know the people and the place, and they’ve done it before, or so the statements go.
In essence, that’s what is happening here. And it goes without saying that this will be the talk today when Cooper-Dyke is formally introduced as head coach at an afternoon reception at the Galen Center.
But is that all enough? That’s the risk, really, that USC takes. It’s banking on the fact it’ll strike gold with the Hall of Fame guard, who is returning home following coaching stints at upstart programs Texas Southern, UNC Wilmington and Prairie View A&M. Is that enough to resuscitate a program that has not appeared in the NCAA tournament since 2006? Time will tell, naturally.
The enthusiasm to turn things around, though, is there. The playing pedigree is there too. Then again, are the coaching chops sound enough? Is it at all concerning that she has not yet held a gig at an upper-echelon Division I program?
Because, to be fair, USC’s women’s hoops is an upper-echelon job. It’s a storied program. It boasts two NCAA championships from the mid-1980s. It also generates quite a bit of revenue: $2.71 million, according to documents filed with the U.S. Department of Education last October, making it USC’s biggest money maker when it comes to women’s athletics. But it’s struggled as of late on the court. And these recent struggles are largely because Cooper-Dyke’s predecessor never quite got it done.
Sure, Michael Cooper’s tenure at USC never exactly took off. The former Lakers guard went 72-57 in four years, including an 11-20 finish last season. The Women of Troy never reached the NCAA tournament and secured a postseason berth just once (a trip to the WNIT Finals in 2011).
You sensed Cooper was never “all in,” as if somehow coaching at USC was beneath him after working as an NBA assistant and then as a championship coach with the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA. Or perhaps he was more interested in making appearances as a basketball analyst on ABC Channel 7.
But for Cooper-Dyke, who describes the ’SC coaching gig as her dream job, there won’t be any questions about effort or interest. Nobody will question her familiarity with USC or her urgency to coach a winning program. You expect her to be all-in, to help the Women of Troy return to prominence, to compete with Pac-12 heavyweights Cal and Stanford.
“Some people, when they hire a coach, the athletic department hits a home run,” Van Chancellor, Cooper-Dyke’s coach at the WNBA’s Houston Comets, said in a statement. “Southern California has hit a grand slam, with two out and down three with the bases loaded. They hit it out of the park. This is one of the greatest hires. She’s the perfect fit.”
Alumni returning to their schools to coach will always make for nice copy and for heartwarming feature stories in local newspapers. Cooper-Dyke’s return definitely falls under that category.
And so the obvious question stands: Will it be anything more than a short-lived honeymoon?
It’s often a fruitless exercise to immediately grade coaching hires. But perhaps ’SC fans can rest easy knowing that if Cooper-Dyke tastes success with the program, it won’t be her first time.
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