In a press conference today, Michigan ended a month-long search for a women’s basketball coach by hiring former Southwest Missouri State coach Cheryl Burnett.
“I am very excited to take over the head coaching duties at one of the top academic and athletic collegiate institutions in the country,” Burnett said. “I also look forward to the opportunity to lead a Michigan program that has made a commitment to women’s basketball.”
Burnett left her post at Southwest Missouri State after a 15-season stint between 1987 and 2002. She compiled a career coaching record of 319-136 (.701) that included two appearances in the women’s Final Four in 1992 and 2001.
She also made a visible affect on attendance numbers at Southwest Missouri State, raising the average from around 400 prior to her arrival to over 7,400 just four years into her stay.
Associate Athletic Director Megan McCallister chaired the search committee and introduced Burnett as the new head coach.
“She is committed to the academic mission of the University of Michigan,” McCallister said. “And she does all of her work with the utmost integrity.”
Burnett’s installment as head coach comes almost four weeks after the resignation of former Michigan head coach Sue Guevara. The Wolverines finished last year with an overall record of 13-16, including a 3-13 mark in the Big Ten. It was Guevara’s first losing season in her career at Michigan and her second straight year in which the team imploded during the Big Ten season after a promising start.
“I think we’re all really excited to have a new start,” junior center Jennifer Smith said. “We really like her philosophy of in-your-face basketball. I think we’ll thrive off that.”
Burnett’s Big Ten connections date back to her time as a graduate assistant (1981) and assistant coach at Illinois (1982-84). She spent her playing days at the University of Kansas where she was a four-year starter and the university’s first full-scholarship female athlete.
Although Burnett preaches a high-octane offense, she wants her teams to play well at both ends of the floor.
“We do want (the game) to begin at the defensive end,” Burnett said. “I believe in intelligent basketball with motion and screening. It’s an intelligent game that is also very effort driven at the defensive end.”
The style of play Burnett hopes to achieve may look foreign to Michigan fans that have become accustomed to Guevara’s traditional high-low post game.
“I think the only way you can get better is when somebody is pushing you,” sophomore BreAnne McPhilamy said. “I think that’s what we’re going to need to be successful.”
Despite the recent adversity in the program, veterans like Smith and junior Stephanie Gandy are not far removed from their lone NCAA Tournament appearance during their freshman campaigns. Burnett says she fully expects the Wolverines to make a return trip sometime in the near future.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself,” Burnett said. “But let’s do this and let’s do this quick.”