March 8, 2022
Who will be Oklahoma State’s next head coach?
HC Jim Littell will not return next season to Oklahoma State
In a move that comes as a bit of a shock but not necessarily a surprise, Oklahoma State Athletics and head women’s basketball coach Jim Littell have agreed to part ways at the conclusion of the season. The Cowgirls enter this week’s Big 12 Tournament with an 8-19 overall record and 3-15 in conference play, having lost five straight to close out the regular season.
Littell arrived in Stillwater in 2005 as the associate head coach under the late Kurt Budke. The two men had been long-time friends and colleagues, both having coached in the junior college ranks. Before joining the OSU staff, Littell’s final six seasons at Seward Community College in Liberal, KS, produced a record of 199-15 and a national championship.
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The title of head coach came to Littell under the most tragic of circumstances following a plane crash in November 2011; that took the lives of Budke, assistant coach Miranda Serna and two others. Yet, just one game into the 2011-12 season, Littell became leader of the program and a source of strength, stability and compassion for the team, support staff and the entire OSU athletic department. OSU finished 22-11 and won the Women’s National Invitational Tournament championship in that season.
His tenure produced eight winning seasons. And a host of all-conference talent on his rosters, including Tiffany Bias, Toni Young and Natasha Mack. Littell was twice named Big 12 Coach of the Year (2016 and 2021.) However, high-profile transfers have left the Cowgirl program in recent years, which has turned the roster upside down. Managing the ups and downs of those moves and being in one of the top conferences in the nation has made it harder and harder to win consistently.
Expectations are high at Oklahoma State, especially for their women’s athletic programs. The women’s golf team won the 2021 Big 12 title and were the 2021 National Runner-Up. Cowgirl softball is consistently ranked in the Top 25 and made it to the 2021 College World Series in Oklahoma City, OK. OSU’s women’s cross-country program placed 13th at the 2021 National Championships. With world-class facilities, outstanding student-athlete support programs and budgets for recruiting and coaches’ salaries, OSU has positioned itself as one of the best overall athletic departments in the Big 12 and the nation.
In the statement announcing this move, Athletic Director Chad Weiberg said, “We have truly competitive women’s programs here at OSU and our expectation is that we can have consistent success and provide a great experience for our student-athletes in Cowgirl Basketball as well.”
This will be one of the first major coaching hires by Weiberg, an OSU alumnus, who became athletic director in July 2021. Dr. Kayse Shrum also began her tenure in July 2021 as the first female president to ever lead OSU. With her background and passionate support of OSU Athletics, many believe she will have a high interest in this hire.
Where does OSU go from here? The initial thought is to target a successful mid-major coach, someone with a record of sustained success. And most importantly, recruiting connections. Many of the people coming to mind will be playing in the NCAA Tournament next week. Are there current P5 assistant coaches or even head coaches that could be an option? Yes, if it is the right fit, personally and professionally, to move to Stillwater. But, ultimately, it should be a successful sitting head coach that can create publicity, excitement and a new buzz which is needed to energize the program and fan base again.
The state of Oklahoma is also a hot bed of prep talent. With OU leaving for the SEC soon, this is an opportunity for OSU to keep quality players close to home. And have the footprint of the Big 12 be a benefit in recruiting. But that takes the right contacts and old-school hard work on the recruiting trail by the right people to make it happen.
In the early to mid-1990s, under former head coach Dick Halterman, one of the most challenging places to play in the Big 8/Big 12 was Gallagher-Iba Arena. It was smaller then (6,000 plus seats). But when the passionate women’s basketball fans started screaming, you could barely hear each other on the floor. And then there was that moment when Pistol Pete would fire his cap gun at the end of the OSU fight song right next to your huddle. I know from personal experience that it makes you jump right out of your chair.
That passion for women’s basketball exists at OSU, but it needs to be rekindled. A new, vibrant face for the program can build a consistent fanbase, generate excitement on campus and win at a high level. And be the destination for talent in the state.
Jim Littell has been a pillar of strength over so many years for Cowgirl basketball. His intensity on the court is matched only by his compassion and love for his players off the court.
Written by Missy Heidrick
I am a former shooting guard at Kansas State and spent almost 20 years working in Higher Education and Division 1 athletics. I am currently a basketball analyst for television and radio, contributing correspondent at The Next, WBB Naismith Award board of selectors member and run my own consulting business. I am a proud mother of two and wife to a patient husband who is almost as big of a sports junkie as I am!