March 10, 2021 

How Wisconsin can find another Lisa Stone

And what Jonathan Tsipis' tenure tells us about the Badger program

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The Badgers are once again on the hunt for a new head coach.

Wisconsin fired head coach Jonathan Tsipis on Tuesday after the Badgers were blown out in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament by Illinois, 67-42.

The Badgers put up just two points in the first quarter of the game and were unable to mount a comeback, losing to an Illini squad that had won just four games all season. The loss ended Tsipis’ tenure with a 50-99 overall record.

“I appreciate Coach Tsipis’s efforts during his five years with us, but we feel it is time for a new direction for our women’s basketball program,” director of athletics Barry Alvarez said in a press release.

While Wisconsin looked to be making progress in Tsipis’ third season after going 15-18, the Badgers failed to build on that momentum. They went 3-15 in Big Ten play the next year and won just one B1G game this season.

Wisconsin is now one decade and two head coaches removed from its last winning season.

As the oft-applied logic of college program building goes: who you hire is important, but the coach you hire after that is who really matters. But what if a program’s expectations grow too lofty too quickly?

For the Badgers, that second hire was Lisa Stone in 2003. Stone succeeded Jane Albright, who had just finished a 7-21 season with the Badgers.

But Albright was only one year removed from a 19-12 record and a first-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament. She had turned the Badgers program around immediately in her first season at UW in 1994 and amassed a 154-86 record, a WNIT title and five NCAA Tournament appearances before her final year.

The down year, however, was enough to convince Wisconsin’s leadership — who had agreed with Albright at the beginning of the season that she would either get a long-term extension at year’s end or be out of a job — that Albright wasn’t worth the investment. Albright resigned at the end of the season when the extension didn’t come.

“The on-court success for our women’s basketball program has been clearly inconsistent with the resources we have committed to this program, and we have not achieved our desired goals of a Big Ten conference championship and deep penetration into the NCAA tournament,” then-UW senior associate athletic director Jamie Pollard said at the time.

Stop me if this sounds familiar.

Stone, Albright’s successor, struggled in her first three seasons at Wisconsin but then made the WNIT three years in a row, including a Finals appearance. She hit pay dirt a year later after a 21-11 season landed the Badgers in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in almost a decade.

Only a year after Stone received the Big Ten Coach of the Year award for her efforts, she was fired in 2011 following a 16-15 season and a WNIT second-round exit. Alvarez echoed the words of Pollard eight years earlier and said the “program has not reached and maintained the level of success I believe is possible.

Wisconsin nailed the first part of its program rebuild back in 1994. It found a coach who was successful right away, established a clear basketball identity in the program and even made it to the second round of March Madness a couple times.

But Wisconsin’s leadership had drawn its line in the sand, and the newfound success Albright had brought the Badgers wasn’t enough.

Truth be told, Wisconsin still did well to hire Stone despite the self-inflicted circumstances. Stone continued some of Albright’s success and kept Wisconsin relevant in the Big Ten. Even if she wasn’t the coach to take them to the next tier, few coaches are, and sustained competitiveness is worth a lot in college basketball, especially when you’re not a blue blood.

Now, rather than searching for that second coach in the program-building equation, the Badgers are back to where they were all those years ago. Let’s just hope they’re lucky enough to land the next Jane Albright or Lisa Stone.

Written by Nick Niendorf

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