June 24, 2023
New Dartmouth head coach Linda Cimino is ready for another rebuild
Once the class of the Ivy League, Dartmouth went 0-14 in conference last season
The one thing that intimidates Linda Cimino about being the new head coach at Dartmouth doesn’t have anything to do with basketball. It’s not that the Big Green went 5-49 over the past two seasons or lost all 14 of their Ivy League games last season.
It’s the winters in Hanover, New Hampshire, where the month of January features an average of 12.5 inches of snow and daily high temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
“I’m not ready for that!” she told The Next with a laugh.
Cimino is seemingly ready for everything else, arriving at Dartmouth after a long career in basketball. That includes playing for current Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico at Adelphi; being the head coach at Caldwell University, Binghamton and St. Francis Brooklyn; and chairing the NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee for two years. She spent the last five years at St. Francis Brooklyn, leaving only after the school made the sudden decision in March to shutter its entire athletics program after the 2022-23 school year.
Cimino heard the news in a 9 a.m. staff meeting, just four hours before all the student-athletes found out. She quickly “became an agent” for her players, she said, helping them figure out their next steps.
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Her hiring process at Dartmouth was almost as much of a whirlwind, taking just five days from the first phone call to signing her contract. The process started while she was in Spain, so she interviewed with the search committee over Zoom at roughly 11 p.m. local time. After that, she quickly flew to Hanover for a campus visit before being offered the job.
“My favorite thing about [Dartmouth athletic director Mike Harrity] is his decisiveness,” Cimino said. “… It’s the same thing as a coach when you go and watch a player: You know within five minutes if you like that player [and] if that person can play for you. And I felt that way about him. … He knew that my vision and his vision and our outlook and our personalities aligned.”
“Her drive for excellence set her apart in our search,” Harrity said in Dartmouth’s press release welcoming Cimino.
Cimino was drawn to the Ivy League in part because of its competitiveness nationally in women’s basketball and its identity as a conference. “The Ivy League knows who the Ivy League is,” she said. “[The] Ivy League has their identity and knows who they are, and, in my opinion, the Ivy League is, to me, like a Power Five league. …
“I lived in New York City for the last five years, so I’m in the middle of the Ivy League, and I [coached] against the Ivy League schools, so I know how good it is.”
In Cimino’s five years at St. Francis Brooklyn, her teams went 0-4 against the Ivy League, losing twice each to Penn and Princeton. Those two teams dominated the Ivy League for much of the 2010s while Dartmouth tumbled. Dartmouth has a co-league-high 17 Ivy League titles along with seven NCAA Tournament appearances, but the last of each came in 2008-09. In the 13 seasons since then, Dartmouth has finished in the top half of the league just once, a fourth-place finish in 2015-16, and the program’s cumulative record is 99-205, for an average of fewer than eight wins per year.
But Cimino is not afraid of a rebuild — in fact, that’s her specialty. At Caldwell, her team went 10-17 in her first season in 2006-07, but four years later, it went 21-6. The Cougars were at least six games over .500 in each of her three subsequent seasons there, and she became the program’s all-time winningest coach before departing for Binghamton.
With the Bearcats, it was a similar story: Binghamton went 4-26 in Cimino’s first season in 2014-15 but 20-12 just three years later. The latter was the first 20-win season in program history, and the Bearcats also earned their first postseason appearance and win that year.
And at St. Francis Brooklyn, Cimino took a program with an all-time winning percentage of 0.299 before she arrived and turned it into a Northeast Conference contender. She won 44.3% of her games there, including a 17-10 season in 2021-22 that featured a win over Michigan State.
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The rebuild at Dartmouth officially began on May 24, Cimino’s first day on campus. She managed to squeeze in two workouts with players before the spring quarter ended, but she was still awaiting detailed film of each player when she spoke with The Next in early June. She was also managing the logistics of moving from New York City to Hanover, working full-time in New Hampshire while technically still living in New York.
“It’s organized chaos, essentially, early on, you know?” she said.
In her first months on the job, Cimino has a long to-do list, but she’s confident that she can be the leader Dartmouth needs. She didn’t shy away from Dartmouth’s championship pedigree in her interview, telling Harrity, “I can do this. We can do this. And I want to get [the program] back to where it was.”
In the short term, Cimino wants to instill confidence in her players that they can finish games. Last season, Dartmouth lost six games by eight points or fewer, including two Ivy League games. She plans to infuse new energy into the program and teach her team to outwork opponents.
“I think my players feed off of my energy,” Cimino said. “… I’m not a screamer and curser. I’m more like an influencer in that sense, a motivator.”
Cimino’s style of play involves running in transition and looking for quick, easy baskets — preferably layups or 3-pointers. If she has the right talent on her roster, she likes to press. But she also calls herself “old school” because she still likes having a post player who can dominate inside.
She’s realistic that an Ivy League championship won’t come overnight, and she sees a methodical path forward: pass one team in the standings, then another, then another.
“We need to try to beat [the teams that finished last season in spots] seven, six and five in Year 1 and then build up, keep going up, climb the ladder that way,” she said. “… I want to be competing. In three years, I want to be a top-four program competing for Ivy League championships.”
She added, “I know I have a challenge ahead of me. … I fully embrace the history of the program and the challenge and I’m gonna just work as hard as I can and be myself, which is the advice I got, and do what I know how to do. … I know how good of a job it is, I know how great of a school it is and so I just feel honored to be the coach here.”
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Beyond transforming the program on the court, Cimino wants to change how the program is viewed. Before she came to Dartmouth, she didn’t know about the 17 Ivy titles, or the nearly 400 wins under legendary head coach Chris Wielgus, or the rivalry with Harvard as the programs traded titles from the late 1980s through the 2000s. “I was in awe,” Cimino said about learning the history of the program.
She thinks other people could use that history lesson, too — perhaps even her current players — after more than a decade of challenging times for the program. “If you were to ask people, people don’t know that Dartmouth was ever good because we’re talking pre-big-time social media,” Cimino said. “… You’d have to really look at the record books.”
The vision is that, as more people learn Dartmouth’s history, it can give them “that sense of pride back” and re-energize them about the program. The already strong alumni base can feel more connected with the current players and encourage them to get an 18th title.
One alumna, former Princeton and current North Carolina head coach Courtney Banghart, endorsed Cimino in Dartmouth’s press release. “She has taken on new challenges at various stops and consistently found great people and unparalleled success,” Banghart said. “She brings authentic energy and passion as well as a winning mentality to the Big Green.”
And Wielgus, who led Dartmouth to 12 Ivy League titles, told The Next via email, “Coach Cimino can hit the ground running. She knows the landscape of Division I. Her positive attitude and work ethic will serve her well as she moves Dartmouth back to the top of the Ivy League leader board.”
Beyond the usual items on a new coach’s to-do list, Cimino has one more thing to attend to. After St. Francis Brooklyn announced its athletics program would end, Cimino’s mom convinced everyone at her church to pray for her daughter to find a job. As Cimino settles in at Dartmouth, she wants to make sure to thank them.
“Now,” Cimino said, “I gotta get all these people at her church T-shirts.”
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided and Power Plays.