LUBBOCK Expectations were high as the Texas Tech women’s basketball program was poised to celebrate its 25th anniversary of winning anational championship during the 2017-2018 campaign.
And no one understood that more than head coach Candi Whitaker, a former Lady Raider who helped the Lady Raiders advance to theSweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons.
But much of the excitement was negated following a stunning 87-70 home loss to Texas State in the regular season opener.
The Lady Raiders bounced back, winning their next three, but stumbled with four straight losses capped off by a 90-56 road defeat toNew Mexico. Once again, Texas Tech shook off the adversity and won three games until dropping their first two Big 12 contests by 40-plus points.
That’s when Texas Tech athletic director decided a change needed to be made and did so by firing Whitaker on Monday citing adisappointing season among other reasons for his decision.
“We had high expectations for this basketball season. And, unfortunately, it has just not gone as planned,” said Hocutt, who mentionedhe made the choice Sunday. “The opening-season loss to Texas State, obviously, was not a good way to begin the season. And thensome subsequent losses have not been good. Ultimately, it was a decision that I arrived at last night (Sunday).”
Whitaker, who was hired back in 2013 and been the Lady Raiders head coach the last four and half seasons, ended with a career recordof 55-82. In Big 12 play, Texas Tech amassed a record of 14-61 under Whitaker’s watch.
The Canyon, Texas, native started her playing career at Seward Community College (1998-2000) before moving on to and graduatingfrom Texas Tech (2000-2002). Prior to joining the Lady Raiders, Whitaker was an assistant at Oklahoma State.
“You want to see progress. You want to see progress over the course of a season,” Hocutt said. “You want to see progress from year-to-year. And we just were not seeing that progress made with this basketball program, which led us to this position today (Monday).”
The Lady Raiders are coming off a 97-49 road loss to No. 6 Baylor in their second Big 12 Conference game Sunday. With the defeat,Texas Tech dropped to 6-7 overall and 0-2 in conference play.
“I believed it was in the best interest of this program and for the young women on this team for the next 16 games,” Hocutt said as towhy he made the change two games into the Big 12 schedule. “I believed a change in leadership had become inevitable. And whensomething becomes obvious, you act on it. And I just felt like — given the set of circumstances with 16 games left to play, it was thebest decision to make this change at this particular time.”
Hocutt said assistant coach Shimmy Gray-Miller accepted the role of interim head coach and will lead the Lady Raiders to close out theregular season. Before coming to Tech, Gray-Miller was assistant at Washington (2000-03), Arizona (2003-05), head coach at St. Louis(2005-12), assistant at Nebraska (2012-15) and Florida (2015-17).
As for whether Gray-Miller is auditioning for a head coaching job, Hocutt admitted he had not thought that far ahead but would beginthe hiring process in the near future.
Assistants Brandi Pool and Sheryl Swoopes are expected to stay on staff. Gray-Miller will be allowed the opportunity to fill a vacancy leftwith the loss of associate head coach Melanie Balcomb — who elected to resign for personal reasons back on Dec. 26.
Balcomb joined the Texas Tech staff shortly after serving as the director of offensive coaching analytics for national champion SouthCarolina last season. She accumulated a record of 472-245 as a head coach at Ashland (two season), at Xavier (seven seasons) and atVanderbilt (14 seasons).
“There’s been no recommendation brought forward by her and, again, this has all transpired for coach Gray-Miller in the last hour and ahalf,” Hocutt said at a 3:30 p.m. schedule press conference. “She hasn’t had a lot of time to think about knowing that we are going tocontinue to put these young women first. That’s where her focus has been.”
Texas Tech is to play against Kansas for a 6:30 p.m. Jan. 3 contest at United Supermarkets Arena.
“This is a good group of young women that we have in this locker room. They have a great amount of pride,” Hocutt said of hisdiscussion with the players he had Monday. “There are certain controllables. And we just asked for a renewed commitment to thosecontrollables that each of us control each and everyday: it’s attitude, effort and energy.
“We just asked this team to remain focused on those things. And to come out with an enhanced and renewed focus on thosecontrollables. … We just ask this community and our fan base to stand behind this team and to come out with their continued supportand encourage these young women for the rest of the season.”