by Dennis Freeland
The University of Memphis is an equal-opportunity/affirmative-action university. It says so on the school stationery.
So why doesn't the university put its money where its mouth is and invite some of the top woman coaches in America to apply for the U of M head coaching job?
Start on the U of M campus, where women's coach Joye Lee-McNelis has built an impressive basketball team, currently 19-4 and the class of Conference USA. Move east to Knoxville, where Pat Summitt has made UT the top women's program in the country. Go west to Stanford, where head coach Tara VanDerveer has both an NCAA championship ring and an Olympic gold medal. All three of these women are smart enough and tough enough to coach young men.
Lee-McNelis laughs loudly when I bring up the subject. "I don't want any part of a men's team," she says. "Men are crazy. Hasn't your wife ever told you that?"
After emphasizing her opposition to a column about her coaching the men's team, Lee-McNelis admits that a woman will probably be hired someday to coach a men's college-basketball team. She suggests Pat Summitt.
"She's tough as nails," Lee-McNelis says. "The men will try to intimidate you initially and I don't think anybody will intimidate Pat Summitt. It's a different ballgame dealing with men and women because the women haven't developed the egos yet."
It would be a gamble to hire a woman to run a men's basketball team. But Lee-McNelis is making believers out of those who come to the Field House to see her Lady Tigers. Her teams play smart, aggressive defense and always look to run on offense. Their half-court game is much more precise than many men's teams.
Lee-McNelis has a record of 102-68 in six years at Memphis. She has won 70 percent of her games after the first two years as she struggled to rebuild a program which had not had a winning season in the four years prior to her arrival. She has recruited talented players who have class and dignity on and off the floor.
The coach is comfortable with herself. She doesn't camouflage her Mississippi accent. She's great with the press and understands the value of promotion. She and her team greet fans and sign autographs after every home game. She knows the value of good assistants and is secure enough to hire and keep them.
The University of Memphis could do a lot worse than hiring Joye Lee-McNelis. At least they should fulfill that equal-opportunity/affirmative-action slogan and invite her to apply. If nothing else, preparing for and going through the interview process for a major coaching job would be good for her professional development.
Someday a college is going to hire a woman to coach a men's team. Why not at the U of M? Why not now?
There are loonies among us who want Dana Kirk to return to the U of M as head basketball coach. Mostly they are being stirred up by the old coach himself and his radio buds at WSFZ 1030-AM. It's not going to happen. Meanwhile, attempts to put Kirk's myriad problems at the school in the perspective of "only an income-tax problem and nothing to do with Tiger basketball" are revisionist history at its worst.
In 1986, after a two-year federal grand jury investigation, Kirk was named in an 11-count indictment on charges of tax evasion, subscribing to false tax returns, mail fraud, and obstruction of justice. Kirk was accused of not reporting a $10,000 payment from the Winston Tire Company, which had sponsored a basketball tournament in which Kirk's team appeared; $918 in basketball ticket sales; $600 from the National High School Athletic Coaches Association; $33,405 from WHBQ-TV and radio; $21,500 from WREG-TV; and $16,712 for basketball camps in 1982 and '83. Highlights of the testimony during Kirk's trial included cash payments of as much as $40,000 made by Kirk to All-American forward Keith Lee, $10,000 worth of soft drinks donated to Kirk's basketball camps and then sold for as much as $1 each, and a government witness who testified that Kirk used proceeds from his basketball camps (held on the U of M campus) to pay gambling debts at Colonial Country Club.
Kirk was convicted on six counts of tax evasion and one count of obstruction of justice. He served time in federal prison and has not coached college basketball since March 1986.
(CORRECTION: We misspelled Rev. Bill Adkins name in last week's sports column. We apologize for the mistake.)