(This is an unedited longer version than print space allowed for Wednesday editions)
By Mel Greenberg
PHILADELPHIA - La Salle women’s basketball coach Tom Lochner won’t return to the Explorers next season, the school announced Tuesday night citing a mutual agreement. He is at the end of a three-year deal.
Lochner, 49, had coached the last six seasons, compiling a 72-102 record.
The move comes two days after La Salle lost a tie-breaking coin flip with Fordham and missed qualifying for the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament for the third straight year.
The Explorers (7-23, 2-12 A-10) finished in a three-way tie for last in the conference with Fordham and Rhode Island, which didn’t qualify because of head-to-head record in the group
“That is just a side thing,” Lochner said Tuesday night of losing the flip. “Fordham called heads. That’s why I’m not a gambler.
“The bottom line is we weren’t able to get it done. But I’m appreciative of my experience at La Salle all those years and all the great friends and memories.”
Lochner was first hired as a volunteer assistant for the 1987-88 season under John Miller before being promoted to assistant head coach in 1989 and then associate head coach in 1998.
He became the head coach in 2004, replacing Miller who resigned.
The Explorers’ coaching change will be the third in the last three years among the Big Five women. Tonya Cardoza replaced Dawn Staley at Temple two years ago after Staley left for South Carolina while Mike McLaughlin replaced Pat Knapp last spring after Knapp’s contract was not renewed.
Lochner’s present contract was his second deal with La Salle.
He was renewed after the 2006-07 season when the Explorers made a dramatic improvement and he was named the Big Five coach of the year in a close vote also involving Staley, whose team won the title.
Lochner, whose wife Beth works at La Salle, said he plans to remain in the area.
“It’s time to move on to a new segment in my life, whatever that is going to be,” Lochner said. “I’m going keep an open mind for everything. But one thing is certain, I like Willow Grove and the Philadelphia area where my kids are. So I don’t anticipate any geographical moves.
“That’s part of the reason I was at La Salle all those years,” he added. “Besides it being such a wonderful place I enjoy my whole experience here – my kids, where we live, everything we want for a family experience and that’s more important than anything else.”
He is a popular figure among coaches across the country.
“That’s too bad – I feel for him – he’s a good guy,” Delaware coach Tina Martin said.
The two schools have had a consistent non-league rivalry over the years.
“I’ve only been in the league three years, but he’s such a wonderful person,” Duquesne coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said. “I’ve enjoyed his company and have such respect for him. I’m going to miss him in the league.”
Lochner said he didn’t feel any undue pressure to win coming down the stretch.
“I knew my contract was up but it’s like anything else, focus on the process,” he said. “Just trying to prepare for the next game, prepare for the next practice and get the team to play better down the stretch.
“I thought we were doing some ok things down the stretch but we didn’t win enough games. But La Salle has been wonderful through all this – even today,” Lochner said.
The Explorers graduate six seniors – among them Antonia Gale, three-point sensation Jamie Walsh, top rebounder and Morgan Robertson, and floor leader Tara Lapetina at the point guard position.
Ashley Gale – Antonia Gale’s sister – Nadia Duncan and Chelsea Connor are mong the returning letterwinners.
La Salle announced an immediate nationwide search for Lochner’s successor, although none of the candidates are expected to come from his staff.
Stacey Smalls is a former Temple star, Mimi Riley starred at Villanova, and Chrissie Doogan is a Big Five Hall of Famer from La Salle who was one of the top scorers in Explorers history.
The Explorers’ two most successful coaching alums – Kelly Greenberg and Cheryl Reeve – won’t be involved.
Greenberg is well-paid at Boston University after her first head coaching stint at Penn where she led the Quakers to their only two Ivy titles.
Reeve in December became the head coach of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, who are potentially a threat for this season’s championship. She previously was an assistant coach and general manager with the Detroit Shock, winning several titles before the Shock became the Tulsa Shock in Oklahoma in the offseason.
When Lochner was hired after a summer-long search, another candidate was Penn’s McLaughlin, who had been a highly successful coach at Division II Holy Family.
Ironically, one finalist was Cathy Andruzzi, who is now at Fordham and made the winning call of the Atlantic 10 coin flip that put her team in this weekend’s tournament that starts Friday at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md.
Another was Tricia Fabbri at Quinnipiac.
Some potential candidates do exist depending which direction athletic director Tom Brennan might want to proceed.
If the school would want an older person with experience, Villanova associate head coach Joe Mullaney Jr. could get involved.
Mullaney, the son of the former successful Providence men’s coach, was in charge of the St. John’s group to get nationally ranked in the early 1980s.
He was involved when the Providence women’s job opened several years ago but his wife didn’t want to make the move from this area.
St. Joseph’s assistant Chris Day had previously been an aide to Lochner at La Salle and also would come from the minority ranks.
North Carolina State assistant Richard Barron has been trying to get back to this area since coaching the Princeton women several years ago – including the Tigers contingent that finished in a three-way tie for the Ivy title but fell in a playoff for the NCAA automatic bid.
In between, he has also been an assistant at powerful Baylor in the Big 12 conference.
Former Fairfield coach Dianne Nolan was believed to be involved in the Penn search last spring. She is an assistant at Yale who is a native of Gloucester, N.J.
It is not known yet if Monmouth coach Stephanie Gaitley will pursue the job. A former Villanova star who coached St. Joseph’s, she recently opened a sports fitness facility in King of Prussia, Sunday.