Minnesota Gophers hire former USD coach to replace Whalen

March 20, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (AP)–Minnesota hired West Virginia head coach Dawn Plitzuweit on Saturday to a six-year contract, turning to another leader with strong regional ties to try to lift up the lagging program.

Plitzuweit, who replaces Lindsay Whalen, has 16 years of experience as a head coach with a career record of 356-141 at four schools. She spent just one season with the Mountaineers, who as a 10th seed lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 7 seed Arizona on Friday.

Prior to that, Plitzuweit took South Dakota to the NCAA Tournament in four of her six seasons there. She was a three-time winner of the Summit League Coach of the Year award with the Coyotes, who reached the Sweet 16 in 2022.

Plitzuweit also spent four seasons at Northern Kentucky and five seasons at Grand Valley State, which won the NCAA Division II national championship in 2006. Between those stops, she was an assistant at Michigan.

The 50-year-old native of West Bend, Wisconsin, has also worked as an assistant at Michigan Tech, Wisconsin and Green Bay.

“This is a homecoming of sorts, and Minnesota is a program that I am very familiar with from my previous time in the surrounding area and in the Big Ten,” Plitzuweit said in a statement. “I am looking forward to getting back to the area and to meet the team, alumni and fans. I am also looking forward to reconnecting with local high school and club coaches. I can’t wait to get to work.”

The university scheduled a news conference on Monday afternoon to introduce Plitzuweit. Terms of her contract weren’t immediately available. Whalen’s base salary this season was $547,000.

Whalen’s departure was described by Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle as a mutual decision, but it seemed like she wasn’t ready to leave. She was supposed to appear at a news conference with Coyle on March 2 when the change was announced, but later said she was too emotional to participate.

Whalen was hired five years ago with no previous coaching experience. But she is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and led her home-state Gophers to their only Final Four appearance as a player in 2004, going on to star for the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA and for the U.S. national team in the Olympics.

Whalen went 71-76 with Minnesota, including a 32-58 record in Big Ten play and no NCAA Tournament appearances. The Gophers made it to the NCAAs twice in four years under Whalen’s predecessor, Marlene Stollings, their only appearances in the last 14 seasons.

Whalen brought in a highly regarded freshman class this season, with four in-state players including leading scorer Mara Braun. The Gophers’ 11-19 season ended with a first-round loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday. They tied for 12th in the Big Ten with a 4-12 record, their fewest wins in 12 years.

Plitzuweit will be the 13th head coach in Gophers program history. Her teams have been fifth or higher in regular season conference play in all 16 seasons as a coach, including 11 top-three finishes.

“We have everything in place,” Coyle said in early March. “There is no reason why it cannot be done here. That’s the question we have to figure out.”

As a player, Plitzuweit was a two-time Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year at Michigan Tech with four trips to the NCAA Division II Tournament.

She and her husband, Jay, have a son, A.J., who plays for South Dakota, and daughter Lexi plays for Grand Valley State.