Sports

Mulkey: Winning title at LSU ‘what I came to do’

New LSU women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey promised to do her best to bring an NCAA title to the program during her introductory news conference Monday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Mulkey appeared at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in a combination pep rally/news conference. She addressed a crowd that included the Tigers team, school administrators and coaches, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and LSU fans.

At one point, she told the players to look at the five Women’s Final Four banners hanging in the arena.

“Nowhere on there does it say ‘national champion,'” Mulkey said. “That’s what I came here to do.”

Mulkey won three NCAA titles in 21 seasons at Baylor, along with 12 regular-season and 11 Big 12 tournament titles. There has been speculation that Mulkey’s relationship with Baylor president Linda Livingstone and athletic director Mack Rhoades had become strained. But Mulkey said Monday that leaving the school, which joined as coach in 2000 and built into a national powerhouse, was very difficult.

“My eyes are swollen from many a tear,” Mulkey said. “I have had so many sleepless nights. Because when your heart is invested in something so intensely and so passionately, it’s hard to let go.

“Yet when your heart also says it’s time to move on and accept your next challenge, and it’s at home … it just kept weighing on me. Something felt right here. I would not have left Baylor for any other school except LSU.”

Mulkey also said that money was not a primary motivating factor in her move. She was reportedly making around $2.27 million per year at Baylor, a private university. It has been reported that Mulkey might make between $2.5 million and 2.8 million per season at LSU.

“How do you get a coach to leave an institution that has had so much success? I think that’s what everybody’s wondering,” Mulkey said. “And the first thing you’re gonna wonder is, ‘God, she got a boatload of money.’ My boat does not float because of money. I wanted resources that I could sell to young people. I wanted an institution that I could be proud of. I wanted resources to hire a staff to make me look good. Those things have happened.

“Yes, it did take some money to get me away from Baylor, but that wasn’t the deciding factor. Timing in everybody’s life is so important. If it doesn’t feel right at that time in your life, you don’t do it. It just felt right, the timing in my life.”

Mulkey, who turns 59 in May, was born in California but grew up in Tickfaw, Louisiana, about 50 miles from Baton Rouge. She introduced her mother, Dru, to the gathering, saying she still lives in the area. Mulkey’s children, Makenzie Fuller and Kramer Robertson, also were in attendance.

Fuller played for her mother at Baylor and has since worked on her staff. Robertson played baseball for LSU and is currently in the St. Louis Cardinals’ farm system. Mulkey came to Baton Rouge to watch many of his games in recent years, but said she never thought she would have a chance to coach at LSU.

The opportunity arose when coach Nikki Fargas left to pursue another opportunity, reportedly with the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces. Mulkey said it didn’t take much convincing from LSU athletic director Scott Woodward.

“I asked him a couple of questions about things that I really don’t need to share with you, but it was more compassion and care than anything else,” Mulkey said. “I think Scott and I were on the same page in that it wasn’t just about basketball. It was about a lot of things that he thought I could help him with, not just at LSU, but in the state of Louisiana. It touched home with me and it touched my heart.”

Mulkey, of course, didn’t address the issues LSU is facing, including a federal class-action lawsuit filed Monday by seven women who allege they were victims of sex-based discrimination at the school. Earlier this month, football recruiting director Sharon Lewis filed a lawsuit accusing university officials of retaliating against her for reporting racist remarks and inappropriate sexual behavior by former coach Les Miles.

But Mulkey seemed to allude to the school’s troubles by saying, “LSU is a very, very prideful institution of higher learning. I can assure you I didn’t just come here to win championships. I came here to make an impact at the right time at an institution that needs something really positive.”

At Baylor, Mulkey was credited with helping to elevate the school and the athletic department by winning the 2005 NCAA title after a men’s basketball scandal involving the murder of former player Patrick Dennehy. She subsequently won two more national championships in 2012 and 2019.

Mulkey had some of her own controversies, such as suggesting a Final Four without COVID-19 testing last month, and defending Baylor following a sexual assault scandal involving the school and its football program in 2017. On Monday, she tossed aside her LSU mask before making her remarks, a gesture sure to bother some observers.

But those in attendance at LSU cheered her multiple mentions of how happy she was to be back in Louisiana, and what she thinks it will take to return LSU women’s basketball to prominence. She won her first NCAA title at Baylor in her fifth season.

“I don’t want you to be misled that I can take a team and overnight play for championships,” Mulkey said. “But I can take a team and make them better each day. As we work with them, we will be able to identify strengths and weaknesses, what we need. Then head out and go get the best talent we can to represent LSU.”

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