Chelsea Newton, Georgia assistant coach- Not many top-tier players have made the transition from the court to the sideline better than the former Big East Defensive Player of the Year Chelsea Newton. After finishing her WNBA career, the Rutgers standout returned to her alma mater and helped land two Top 5 recruiting classes as an assistant. Now at Georgia, the 34-year-old has aided Joni Taylor in building one of the best teams in the SEC. With the proven ability to recruit, develop talent and having learned from two of the best coaches in the game, Newton might get her call in the next few years.
Stephanie Norman, Louisville associate head coach- Norman is undisputedly one of the best recruiters in the country and Louisville owes much of it’s success to her. Heading into her 12th season on the Cardinals bench, Norman is already high on many short lists and could leave whenever she wants to. She was rumored to be in the mix for the Oregon job in 2014- she is an Oregon native- and all she has done since then is improve her profile. She wants to win a national championship so she won’t leave for just anything, but it’s hard to believe Norman won’t get a good opportunity as soon as next offseason.
Kate Paye, Stanford associate head coach- Just like Ivey at Notre Dame, many wonder if Paye won’t just wait until Tara Vanderveer retires- whenever that may be- and take over at Stanford. There is certainly no argument that she wouldn’t deserve that if it were to happen. A former champion as a player for the Cardinal, Paye is entering her 12th season at Stanford and she has helped the program reach seven Final Fours, including a run of five straight from 2008-2012. She is one of the most well-respected assistants in the game and at just 44-years-old, Paye has plenty of time to make her mark.
Sam Purcell, Louisville associate coach- The colorful and cheerful Purcell- both on his social media accounts and in his dress- has an infectious personality, one that has seen Louisville land three Top Five recruiting classes since his arrival in 2013. The 39-year-old has made an honorable climb up the coaching ladder, starting as a student assistant at Auburn in 2000 then working his way up as a video coordinator (twice) and assistant with stops at Tulsa and Georgia Tech. Several insiders noted that, just like his co-worked Stephanie Norman, he has all the tools to run his own program.
Shea Ralph, UConn assistant coach- It was alluded to earlier when talking about Niele Ivey, but Ralph is the other name that many are waiting to take over her own program. After 11 years as an assistant in Storrs- plus winning a national championship as a player in 2000- it seems like Ralph has been around as long as Geno, but she is only 40-years-old and has a long time left in front of her. Many around the game agree that she has the temperament and basketball knowledge to be able to be successful elsewhere, but it’s fair to assume she will just stick around. Were she to get the head coaching itch, however, she would have no shortage of suitors.
Aaron Roussell, Bucknell head coach- Before he became a two-time Patriot League Coach of the Year, Rousell was content coaching at the D3 level in Chicago. He spent eight seasons leading the University of Chicago to a 161-50 record, making it to the Final Four on four separate occasions before Bucknell was able to lure him away. Clearly comfortable with academically challenging schools, Rousell thas turned the Bison into a conference power. Their first-round WNIT win in 2016 was the first by a Patriot League team in history, and the next year his team was in the NCAA tournament. Following another WNIT appearance last year, Rousell is on the short-list for a ton of schools, especially the academically inclined.
Karl Smesko, Florida Gulf Coast head coach- What exactly is Smesko waiting for? That has been the question asked by many of those we spoke to for this list. The only coach in FGCU history, Smesko built a team from scratch and, somehow, went 30-1 in their first ever season in the NAIA. After five seasons at that level- and a 132-21 record- the school joined the A-Sun and continued to dominate. FGCU has never missed the postseason since being D1 in 2007, including five NCAA tournaments, two of which the team upset their first-round opponent. While many Power Five’s had sniffed around him before, last year seemed like he might finally leave when Southern Cal offered him the job, but he turned it down to return yet again. If he ever decides he wants to give it a go at a higher level, he will be able to immediately.
Charlotte Smith, Elon head coach- The shooter of the buzzer-beating 3-point basket that gave UNC-Chapel Hill it’s first and only national championship in 1994 has been winning a lot of games as a head coach in the Tarheel State. The 45-year-old Smith enters her eighth season as the head coach at Elon- a small school in the Colonial Athletic Conference that is located about 40 minutes southeast of her alma mater- and has never finished worst than 4th in the conference. The Phoenix have gone 52-15 over the past two seasons and made the NCAA tournament in both of them. Smith was in the mix at both Florida and Clemson recently, but many assume she is waiting for Sylvia Hatchell to retire at UNC. In the meantime, expect Smith to get serious looks from any and every Power Five job that opens this upcoming offseason.
Charmin Smith, Cal associate head coach- Another coach who feels like she has been coaching for even longer than she has, the 43-year-old Smith has been on the Cal bench since 2007, outdating even her head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. Signing 10 McDonald’s All-Americans since settling in Berkley, Smith has earned the right to be thought of as one of the elite recruiters on the West Coast. She also helped Cal to the 2013 Final Four, an impressive feat for a program who had only been past the 2nd round once prior to that run. You’d be hard pressed to find someone to say a negative word about Smith and her reputation should land her a head coaching gig sooner rather than later.
Kimberly Stephens, Glenville State head coach- The second on two D2 head coaches on the list, Stephens has found massive success at her alma mater. A conference championship and a 24-6 record in her first season was bested last season when Glenville State went 31-2, making the first undefeated conference run in MEC history. It has to be noted the unique style of play Stephen’s team has: last year, the team averaged 98 ppg on 42 three-point attempts per game, tops in the nation. She has some D1 experience- she was an assistant at Sacramento State for three seasons- and the style is certainly one that many will shy away from, but a program in need of an identity change may need to look no further than the 29-year-old Stephens.
Carly Thibault-DuDonis, Minnesota assistant coach: Being the daughter of the winningest coach in WNBA history certainly brought lofty expectations from day one, but Thibault has built her reputation all by herself. After successful stints at Eastern Michigan and Florida State, the 27-year-old helped Mississippi State make it to back-to-back national championship appearances while also signing the #11 class in the country. Now joining Lindsay Whalen- a former draft pick of her father- Thibault can set herself up with a lot of options if she can assist in taking the Gophers back to national relevance. And while her recruiting reputation is deserved, her Xs and Os knowledge has caught the attention of many as well. (Full disclosure: I am married to Carly but I remind you, the reader, that this list is a composite list of many opinions and not my own)
Brooke Wyckoff, Florida State associate head coach- Getting the bump up from assistant to associate head coach is usually the first step to eventually getting a head coaching spot and Wyckoff got that bump this offseason. The 38-year-old former standout player has helped guide her alma mater into being one of the more consistent programs in the country, overseeing the Seminole defense that ranks among the best ever in the FSU history. An Ohio native, there was chatter the past few seasons when there were openings there or in Florida, but none ever came close to materializing. Just like former FSU associate head coach Lance White was able to land a head coaching job eventually- he is in his first season at Pittsburgh- Wyckoff will get her chance too.