April 2, 2012 10:39

He's revered as the former girls' basketball coach at Teurlings Catholic and in AAU play, and now Garry Brodhead will try to bring the same success to UL's long-struggling program.

Garry Brodhead says he's coming back home, to coach women's basketball at his alma mater, at the perfect time.

"It's a great time to be a women's college basketball coach in Louisiana," Brodhead said Monday shortly after being officially announced as the Ragin' Cajuns' 12th women's hoop coach. "There's really no dominant team in the state."

On that count, he's right.

Louisiana Tech wasn't even a shadow of its former self this year, with the Techsters 17-15 and middle-of-the-pack in a league that wasn't very good (other than Fresno State, the rest of the WAC finished at 85-131). Tulane had a solid season but still only finished 9-7 in Conference USA and didn't make the NCAA Tournament.

The closest to an elite program in the state right now is LSU, which is still well away from that status despite Tiger fans' worship of first-year coach Nikki Caldwell. The Tigers lost in the second round of the NCAA's on their home floor, and the SEC champion (No. 2 seed Kentucky) almost lost to McNeese in the NCAA first round.

Those Cowgirls have won two straight Southland Conference titles and made two straight NCAA's with Brodhead serving as associate head coach, but even with that success MSU was only a No. 15 NCAA seed.

Brodhead isn't promising to put the Cajuns into that group in a hurry ("I'm not a quick-fix type of guy," he said Monday), but even though he didn't elaborate, his point was well taken. As compared to many other college sports, it won't take much for a women's basketball program to jump near the top of the state class.

And Brodhead cited one of his alma mater's teams, a UL softball program that is easily the state's elite, to emphasize his desire to build a program and not just a winning team.

"You look at what the Lotiefs (UL co-head coaches Stefni and Mike Lotief) and what they did with the Reflections," he said. "A long time before they started coaching here, they were developing kids."

Brodhead did the same thing. He and wife Andrea founded and nurtured both the local biddy basketball and AAU youth girls' basketball programs in Acadiana, and Andrea still administers most of those programs. Because of NCAA rules, Garry had to remove himself from active participation in the AAU program when he was hired at McNeese five years ago, but don't doubt that his influence is still all over those teams and programs.

At least a half-dozen members of this year's 26-win McNeese squad spent time in the local AAU program, and most of this year's Cowgirl recruiting class did the same. Top-level and national-caliber players hone their games more through AAU play than in prep programs, and virtually every successful Division I coach in the country knows the entire Brodhead family from their AAU involvement.

"My wife probably loves the game more than I do, and she loves the kids that play the game," Brodhead said of his entire family involvement. "I don't see how anybody else does it any other way."

Daughter Ashley has won back-to-back state titles at St. Thomas More, one of two prep championships won by city teams this year (Lafayette High won in 5A, STM in 4A). That was unheard of not too many years ago, until Brodhead won the 2002 state crown at Teurlings Catholic as part of nine district titles and six trips to the state semifinals in 10 years there.

Family's hugely important to the Brodhead clan, and basketball is important to the family. It didn't take long for that message to come out loud and clear on Monday.

"I won't recruit a kid that couldn't be one of my daughters," he said. "That's important in building a program, and I think that's my strong point, program building."

It's a massive job. With the exception of a brief period under Ross Cook and a too-brief stint under J. Kelley Hall, coaches have found little success in the UL women's program over the past four decades. Even when Brodhead was a pole vaulter on the Cajun track team from 1976-80, he had a pole to help him reach new heights.

But no one among coaches who would take the job has a better chance at achieving long-term success, which is why athletics director Scott Farmer called him Sunday and offered him the job.

"Every time we looked at the qualities we were looking for, he kept rising to the top," Farmer said Monday. "His understanding of the game, his history in coaching and running a program, and his passion for the university and we've got someone that will outwork every staff in the country."

That job-offer call came on April Fool's Day, a fact that probably wasn't lost on many who have heaped abuse on a downtrodden program in the past. That may be about to change.