FILE PHOTO: CHRIS BIEN/THE HOYA Terri Williams-Flournoy, pictured during the 2011-2012 season, led Georgetown back to national prominence during eight seasons here.
FILE PHOTO: CHRIS BIEN/THE HOYA
Terri Williams-Flournoy, pictured during the 2011-2012 season, led Georgetown back to national prominence during eight seasons here.

Earlier this month, Georgetown women’s basketball Head Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy announced that she was taking her talents to Auburn to fill the head coaching position recently vacated by Nell Fortner. The announcement was met with predictable excitement in Alabama and sadness on the Hilltop; in her eight years at Georgetown, Williams-Flournoy had revitalized a mediocre program and brought the Hoyas into the national spotlight. It remains to be seen whether Georgetown will be able to find a comparable replacement, but one thing is certain: “Coach Flo” made an impact here that will not soon be forgotten.

A PROGRAM IN LIMBO

When Williams-Flournoy accepted the job on the Hilltop, George W. Bush was in his first term as U.S. president. Fewer than one in five Americans owned an iPod, and the iPhone hadn’t been invented yet. The Carolina Panthers were in the Super Bowl; Facebook was a fledgling website; “occupy” was something you did to an airplane lavatory.

And the Georgetown women’s basketball program was struggling.

It’s not that the Hoyas were embarrassingly bad. They usually managed to scrape together a few Big East wins and finish around .500 overall. But despite featuring talented players like forward RebekkahBrunson (COL ’04) — who had an impressive eight-year WNBA career — and Katie Smrcka-Duffy(COL ’01) — whose professional career was nipped in the bud by injuries — the Blue and Gray of the early 2000s never earned an NCAA bid.

So when Head Coach Pat Knapp left Georgetown to take the helm at Penn, Williams-Flournoy, then an assistant at Southwest Missouri State, accepted the challenge. Her first few years weren’t exactly revolutionary: The Hoyas failed to break the .500 mark in her first three seasons, and even 2007-2008’s 15-14 finish was hardly awe-inspiring.

But in 2008, all that changed.

NEW LIFE

Bolstered by her strongest recruiting class ever, Williams-Flournoy instituted a high-pressure defensive system and a run-and-gun offense that allowed her new personnel to thrive. The Blue and Gray notched their first 20-win season of the millennium and made it to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament quarterfinals before falling to Boston College.

The addition of superstar freshman Sugar Rodgers (COL ’13) the next year was the final piece inWilliams-Flournoy’s puzzle. With the defense as sharp as ever and Rodgers leading the offensive charge, the Hoyas ripped off 50 wins over the next two years, made the NCAA tournament twice and nearly knocked off No. 1 Connecticut in the 2011 Sweet 16. The performance earned Williams-Flournoy numerous accolades, including The Hoya’s Coach of the Year award and a spot on the USA Basketball coaching staff for the 2011 World University Games. But there was still unfinished business.

“You’ve got to get to the Final Four,” Williams-Flournoy said in 2011. “You just have to get to it. I experienced the Final Four as an assistant, but I could only imagine doing it as a head coach.”

The pieces were all in place for Williams-Flournoy to achieve just that in 2011-12. The seven recruits who had started the revolution were seniors, Rodgers had another year of experience under her belt and Big East powerhouse Connecticut looked mortal for the first time in years. The Hoyas were ranked in the national top 10 by most media outlets, and expectations on the Hilltop were running high.

And, as it happened, 2011-12 was by no means a bad season. Georgetown beat 11 teams in a row to close out the 2011 calendar year, finished 23-9 overall and earned a double-bye in the Big East tournament. Rodgers led the Big East in scoring and the Blue and Gray defense gave each of their opponents fits.

But in the season’s most crucial moments, the Hoyas’ stout defense still could not make up for the severe dearth of offensive firepower beyond Rodgers. West Virginia, for example, held Georgetown to a paltry 32 points in the first round of the Big East tournament.

The Hoyas earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament and beat Fresno State handily before falling flat against Georgia Tech in the Round of 32. Just like that, the illustrious careers of Tia Magee, Rubylee Wright and the five other members of the Class of 2012 came to an unceremonious end.

“They gave everything they had to this program,” Williams-Flournoy said of her seniors. “They know what they’ve done for this program, and that will never be touched by any other group that comes in here, because they put Georgetown on the map.”

Then, suddenly, on April 2, Williams-Flournoy was introduced as Auburn’s new head coach.

THE AFTERMATH

Williams-Flournoy’s decision to leave for Auburn was understandable. The Tigers compete in the SEC — historically, the most competitive women’s basketball conference in the country — and have made the NCAA tournament 16 times, including three championship game appearances.

ut despite its rich history, Auburn has fallen on hard times of late: The Tigers have missed the cut the last three tournaments, and Fortner resigned following an ugly 13-17 performance in 2011-12. For a coach — especially a much-hyped, relatively young one like Williams-Flournoy — there are few more exciting challenges than restoring a once-great program to its former glory.

Still, it remains hard to shake the feeling that the newest Auburn coach left behind unfinished business at Georgetown. Yes, the senior core that fueled Williams-Flournoy’s frenetic presses will be gone next season. But Rodgers has one more year, rising sophomore guard Taylor Brown showed flashes of star potential last season and the incoming freshman class features two of the nation’s top 60 recruits. The team will look different, but Williams-Flournoy undoubtedly would have helped make Rodgers’ senior season a year to remember.

Unfortunately for the Hoyas, that won’t be the case. The Georgetown athletic department is now faced with the unenviable task of replacing the woman who turned a program around. And unless Georgetown pulls a wild card and successfully lures Geno Auriemma away from Storrs, the new coach will have big shoes to fill.

But all hope is not lost. Even if truly replacing Coach Flo may be impossible, the national attention that Williams-Flournoy brought to Georgetown during her tenure should allow the program to attract a high-profile, qualified candidate to take the reins.

The Hilltop community may be sad, perhaps even jealous, to see Williams-Flournoy leave for Auburn. But more than anything else, the program is indebted to her — and to this year’s seniors — for finally instituting a winning culture at McDonough Arena.

 

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