If Rob Mullens is looking for a blueprint for rebuilding the Oregon womens' basketball program, he doesn't need to look far.
The Oregon mens' program was a bigger mess when Dana Altman took over. Altman took over a team with only six scholarship players, too late to put together any kind of a strong recruiting class. Four years later, he is coming off of back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.
Even more impressively, he can look at what Scott Rueck has done with the Oregon State women. The Beavers plucked Rueck from George Fox, where he had won the NCAA Division III National Championship. He inherited a roster with only two scholarship players, after allegations of abuse against former coach LaVonda Wagner. After four years, Rueck is coming off Oregon State's first NCAA appearance since 1996.
Many forget the tradition of the Oregon program. This team made eight straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 1994-2001. They are still the last team not named Stanford to win a regular season Pac-10 title. This team was a hot ticket in the late '90s, regulary drawing crowds of over 3,000 to Mac Court. With one NCAA appearance since 2001, it's rare that they draw half that.
It's interesting that this downfall has come at a time where pretty much every other sport on campus--football, mens' basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball--are going through the most successful stretches in their history. The last two coaches--Paul Westhead and Bev Smith--seemed reasonable hires at the time. However, both showed not to be up to the job early on, and both we kept on long after the conclusion of it not working out was inevitable.
However, this program is not nearly in as bad a shape as OSU at the time of its transformative hire. Oregon has four things that OSU didn't have--tradition, facilities, a commitment to excellence, and skilled players already on the roster. Rueck started form literally nothing at OSU. Whomever comes to Oregon will have talent to build around. Jillian Allyene is one of the best players in the conference. In all, the Ducks have 11 players coming back to the team next season.
The key to rebuilding this program will be two-fold. The first is finding a coach who will run a system that is fundamentally sound. Westhead had a system--but that system ignored defense and counted on shotmaking as the only way to win. Unless you have elite talent, you simply can't win that way consistently in the women's game at that level. Even good players simply aren't good enough to overcome the multitude of easy shots given up on the defensive end. The Ducks need to get back to basics--valuing defense and possession of the basketball.That doesn't mean it has to be slow-down, but take a shot within ten seconds just led to a multitude of bad shots.
The other key is finding someone who will be a tireless recruiter. When Shoni Schimmel and Mercedes Russell leave the state and you never have a shot, that's a problem. But there is so much talent on the west coast, you should always be able to field a nationally competitive roster.
Westhead was a splashy hire, but was never a great fit. There is no need to win the press conference. Find someone who will have a commitment to defense and a commitment to recruiting. With those two, the wins will come.