Terri Williams-Flournoy built a women's college basketball power from virtual scratch. Her next challenge is to revive a former national championship contender.
A Hampton native and Phoebus High graduate, Williams-Flournoy was introduced Tuesday as Auburn's head coach after eight seasons guiding Georgetown's program. Given her credentials and background, she appears a sage hire for the Tigers.
NCAA tournament three consecutive years, speaks to the depth of the Southeastern Conference and the difficulty of Williams-Flournoy's task.
Still, the job is not as daunting as Georgetown's in 2004, when Williams-Flournoy baffled many by departing a comfortable assistant's position at postseason staple Georgia. Sure, the Hoyas offered Williams-Flournoy her first big-whistle gig, but they had earned only one NCAA tournament bid in their history, that 17 years prior.
After a skittish start, Williams-Flournoy turned Georgetown, despite the presence of Bigfoots Connecticut, Notre Dame and Rutgers, into a Big East contender. She compiled a 143-104 record, a sterling 73-27 the last three seasons.
The Hoyas have competed in each of the last three NCAA tournaments, advancing at least one round in all. They are regulars in the Associated Press top 25.
(Don't be surprised if Georgetown turns to Howard coach Niki Reid Geckeler, a Phoebus grad who captained the Hoyas' 1993 Sweet 16 team and more than a decade later served as an assistant to Williams-Flournoy.)
"I can't promise you how much we'll win or what we will do," Williams-Flournoy said at a Tuesday news conference. "But what I can promise you is that I know how to win, and that's what I will put into the minds of our young ladies."
"She took a program at Georgetown and left it far better than she found it," Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said at the same presser. "Not only that, all but one of her student-athletes have graduated in her eight years at Georgetown, and that (one) was just a few hours away from finishing."
Fortner was 145-106 at Auburn, virtually mirroring Georgetown's record during the same time. But while the Hoyas are ascending, the Tigers are declining.
Auburn was 13-17 this season, 5-11 in the Southeastern Conference, a league Williams-Flournoy knows well from her Georgia days. And the Tigers' three-year absence from the NCAA is jarring for a program that received 15 bids in 19 seasons from 1982-2000.
Indeed, under coach Joe Ciampi, Auburn advanced to consecutive national championship games in 1988 and '89, falling to Tennessee and Stanford, respectively.
So given their contrasting arcs, why leave Georgetown for Auburn?
In a word, support. From administration and fans.
Williams-Flournoy agreed to a five-year contract with a base salary of $550,000, considerably more than she made at Georgetown, a private school that does not reveal contract terms. But this move isn't solely about money.
Auburn's men's and women's teams play in an $86-million arena that opened in 2010 and seats 9,121. Georgetown's women play in 2,500-seat McDonough Gym, which opened during the Truman administration.
The Hoyas' average home attendance this season was 963, and their final home game drew 307.
The Tigers' average home crowd was 2,501, with a season-best of 4,269 for Tennessee.
"We sold getting your degree from Georgetown University," Williams-Flournoy said. "It wasn't the building that we could sell because there wasn't much of a building to sell. We began to sell getting a Georgetown degree, and we began to sell the success of our program and winning and going to the NCAA tournament.
"Now my job just got a little easier because now I not only can sell getting your degree from Auburn University, I can also sell playing in the SEC and then to come and play in this arena. And to walk around and see the facilities that are being built around here. When I walked through the locker room last night, the girls gave me the grand tour and I thought 'Oh my God, this is unbelievable.' I'm thinking to myself `I just walked into a gold mine.' "
While at Georgetown, Williams-Flournoy mined her Hampton Roads roots, most notably for Sugar Rodgers, a graduate of King's Fork High and product of the summer basketball program run by Boo Williams, Terri's brother.
At Auburn, Williams-Flournoy takes over a southern-fried roster comprised solely of players from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Mississippi.
Led by rising junior Tyrese Tanner, the Tigers figure to return their top four scorers next season. That also includes SEC all-freshman Hasina Muhammad and Blanche Alverson, the conference's top scholar-athlete for women's basketball.
But elevating in the SEC won't be easy. Eight of the conference's 12 teams made the NCAA field this season, and 2011 national champion Texas A&M is moving from the Big 12 to the SEC.
"I understand that in the SEC … the competition is tough every night," Williams-Flournoy said. "But having been in … the Big East, I think I'm really capable of dealing with that."
David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP