After a remarkable first season at the helm of the program, USC women’s basketball head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke has continued her run of success with the hiring of two impressive new assistant coaches. Cooper-Dyke’s staff now includes longtime San Diego State head coach Beth Burns and former Fresno State standout Taja Edwards.
Burns, who played college ball at Ohio Wesleyan, was named associate head coach under Cooper-Dyke. Burns began her head-coaching career with the Aztecs in 1989. She would stay there for eight seasons before moving on to Ohio State, where she coached from 1997 to 2002. In 2000, she guided the Buckeyes to a WNIT championship. Burns returned to San Diego State in 2005, leading the team to an unprecedented eight-year run of success. In 2010, the Aztecs advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, where they upset 6th-seeded Texas and 3rd-seeded West Virginia. In 2013, Burns led San Diego State to a program-best 27 wins and its second straight Mountain West Conference championship. She was also named conference coach of the year in 2012 and 2013. In all, Burns has made eight NCAA tournament appearances in 21 years of head coaching, along with six conference coach of the year awards.
Burns’ tenure at San Diego State, however, was not without controversy. In April 2013, she unexpectedly quit after perhaps her most successful season with the program. Many claimed that she was forced to retire after a video surfaced that depicted her striking an assistant coach with a clipboard. Burns, however, maintains that she was forced out for comments she made regarding the university’s poor treatment of women’s athletics programs. Burns recently filed a wrongful termination suit against the school.
Cooper-Dyke is supportive and appreciative of Burns.
“Beth is a legend,” Cooper-Dyke told USC Trojans. “She established a winning culture at San Diego State that is in line with what we are working to do here at USC. She [is] a defensive-minded coach who has such wisdom when it comes to college basketball. Her passion and energy also make her a great fit for us here at USC, and I’m very eager to have her on staff.”
New assistant coach Taja Edwards, a highly successful former college basketball player who appeared in the NCAA tournament four times with Fresno State, will bring youth the USC’s coaching staff. Edwards was a McDonald’s All-American at Long Beach Poly High School, where she also won two state championships. She began her collegiate coaching career as an assistant at Ole Miss, where she spent the 2012-2013 season. The Carson, Calif. native spent last season as an assistant at Cal State Fullerton. Cooper-Dyke is impressed by Edwards’ combination of youth and experience.
“Taja is a bright, young coach who I really believe has a great future,” Cooper-Dyke told USC Trojans. “She has NCAA Tournament experience as a player, so she knows what it takes to succeed as a student-athlete on the court and in the classroom.”
Burns and Edwards will replace former assistants Brandy Manning and Evan Unrau, who helped lead the Women of Troy to a dramatic but successful 2013-2014 season. The team got off to a hot start, but struggled down the stretch of the Pac-12 schedule. With its NCAA tournament chances in serious jeopardy, USC won four straight games to capture the Pac-12 conference tournament title. That run included a monumental upset over No. 6 Stanford in the semifinals.
Though the team lost in heartbreaking fashion to St. John’s in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, the season still marked the team’s first postseason appearance since 2006. Cooper-Dyke is convinced that her recent hires can take the Women of Troy to the next level.
“I’m so excited to have Beth and Taja on board,” Cooper-Dyke told USC Trojans. “I think this staff is a strong group, and I know the team looks forward to learning and working with them, too. We got a taste of victory this past season, and I believe this staff can carry this program even further.”