Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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A New Hope

Seventeen NCAA tournament appearances. 509 wins. The 12th-highest winning percentage in women’s college basketball history.

This sounds like the resume of a head coach at Connecticut, Tennessee, or one of the others giants of women’s basketball. But it’s not.

It’s the track record of Northwestern’s newest coach.

Joe McKeown, coach of the George Washington women’s team for the past 19 season, was introduced as the Wildcats’ new coach at a press conference Monday afternoon.Athletic director Jim Phillips spoke glowingly of McKeown, the most successful coach in Atlantic 10 history, rattling off a litany of achievements that seemed to go on forever.

“There is no question that he is one of the best and most accomplished coaches in college basketball right now,” Phillips said.

McKeown, who replaces the recently departed Beth Combs as the sixth coach in program history, faces a similar situation to the one he had when he took over the GW program in 1989. Then, the Colonials had just come off a 9-19 season and were near the bottom of the conference. Within three years, GW had become one of the nation’s elite teams, reaching a program-best No. 6 ranking in the 1991-92 season.

The 58-year-old coach will try to execute the same turnaround in Evanston, where NU has been mired in its own slump in recent years. The Cats have not reached the NCAA tournament since 1997, when they were eliminated by none other than McKeown’s GW squad. The Colonials reached the Elite Eight that year, one of four times McKeown took his squad to at least the Sweet 16.

While the Cats are coming off a dismal 5-26 season in which they won just one game in the Big Ten, McKeown said he welcomed the task of the turning the program around.

“It’s a big challenge,” he said. “But I think the potential with this university in women’s basketball is tremendous.”

The hire is a remarkable coup for a Cats’ program that saw Combs leave with a 24-95 career record. Barely a month later, NU has a coach that won more games last season (27) than Combs did in her entire four-year tenure.

A newfound sense of optimism was evident at the press conference. Smiles abounded throughout the room at the Nicolet Center, especially from the players themselves, who sat together in the front row.

“Just seeing him and talking about him, I don’t care about what happened last season,” said freshman center and NU scoring leader Amy Jaeschke, who met McKeown along with the rest of team earlier in the day. “Now it really helps that it’s all behind us and we have a bright future ahead of us.

Phillips said the search committee was focused on finding a coach with a history of success and a knack for recruiting.

“There were several excellent choices, but there was one candidate that separated himself,” he said. “And that was Joe McKeown. How many times do you get to hire a coach with 500 wins, who’s been to 17 NCAA tournaments, who’s never had a losing season?”

While McKeown said the success of NU athletics as a whole was the main reason he took the job, he admitted there were personal factors as well. McKeown’s son is autistic, and he said the top-flight services offered in the Chicago area was a factor in his decision to accept NU’s offer.

The logistics of McKeown’s deal have yet to be released. Phillips declined to comment on the specifics of the contract, but it is expected to be lucrative and long-term. The incoming coach said he may bring some of his staff from GW with him, but no specific personnel decisions have been made yet.

Both Phillips and McKeown stressed that the newest Cats’ coach was in it for the long haul.

“It’s not just ‘win a couple years and leave,'” McKeown said. “It’s a long-term deal.”

Coaches from around the country offered their praise for McKeown and predicted unprecedented success for NU.

“Joe is so knowledgeable and a great strategist,” said legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, according to an NU press release. “Watch out Big Ten.”

Whether the conference will in fact have to watch out for the Cats in future seasons remains to be seen, as McKeown looks to bring another dormant program to the top.

“It’s on me now,” he said.

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
A New Hope