- Legendary Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw announced her retirement on Wednesday.
- McGraw led her teams to two National Championships and nine Final Fours en route to the basketball Hall of Fame.
- She also developed a slew of WNBA talent, including league stars like Skylar Diggins-Smith, Kayle McBride, Jewell Lloyd, Arike Ogunbowale, and Ruth Riley.
- McGraw has been an unapologetic champion for women, thereby shifting the larger landscape for women in sports.
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A basketball legend has left the court for the final time, her heels click-clacking the whole way.
Legendary Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach Muffet McGraw announced her retirement Wednesday after 33 years leading the Fighting Irish.
— Muffet McGraw (@MuffetMcGraw) April 22, 2020
“It has been my great honour to represent the University of Notre Dame these past 33 years, but the time has come for me to step down as your head basketball coach,” McGraw said in a statement. “I am proud of what we have accomplished and I can turn the page to the next chapter in my life with no regrets, knowing that I gave it my best every day.”
McGraw moulded 20 future league players – 10 of whom were first-round draft picks – over her career, and also led her teams to two National Championships and nine Final Fours. But perhaps the most important piece of McGraw’s legacy is her role as a champion for women in sports and beyond.
“When you look at men’s basketball, 99% of the jobs go to men. Why shouldn’t 100 or 99% of the jobs in women’s basketball go to women?” McGraw said in an April 2019 press conference ahead of the Final Four. “Maybe it’s because we only have 10% women athletic directors in Division I. People hire people who look like them. That’s the problem.”
McGraw is one of the most accomplished coaches ever in college basketball
McGraw is the eighth-winningest head coach in NCAA Division I history, with 936 career victories combined between her stints with the Lehigh Mountain Hawks and, more famously, at Notre Dame.
She built a winning program from the ground up at the Joyce Centre – now better known as Purcell Pavilion. When she arrived in 1987, the Fighting Irish were coming off of a 12-15 season and had never qualified for an NCAA tournament.
The shift was striking in that first season: McGraw led the team to a 20-8 record. Notre Dame finished first in its conference the following three years, and in 1992 – McGraw’s fifth season – the Fighting Irish made their first appearance in the NCAA tournament. Soon, they became fixtures in the month of March; the team has taken part in the Madness every year since 1996.
McGraw only got better with time; the 2010s were by far the most dominant decade of her four as a coach. From 2010 to 2019, the Fighting Irish competed in the national title game six times. Their lowest finishes during that time span (in 2010 and 2016) still put Notre Dame in the Sweet 16.
McGraw helped develop some of the biggest stars in the WNBA
McGraw helped mould league stars like Skylar Diggins-Smith, Kayle McBride, Jewell Lloyd, Arike Ogunbowale, and Ruth Riley.
“There’s something about her that makes you want to move a mountain for her,” Diggins-Smith, a four-time WNBA all-star said, per the NCAA. “I believe it’s how much she cares about her players.”
Former Notre Dame forward and current WNBA player Brianna Turner described McGraw as a workhorse, relentless in her pursuit of excellence.
I will never forget that one of my hardest college practices came after a 20+ point win bc @MuffetMcGraw said we should of won by 35+ instead. She was never satisfied & always hungry for more. It wasn’t solely about the margin of victory but moreso holding ourselves accountable
— Brianna Turner (@_Breezy_Briii) April 22, 2020
Ruth Riley wrote in an essay for ESPN that with McGraw, “there are no pretenses – she simply tells it as it is.”
“She is an intense competitor with remarkable intellect and integrity. She excels without arrogance, is selfless, and always deflects praise by redistributing the spotlight to shine on those around her,” Riley wrote. “When I say she has no ego, I mean none, nada, zero. Double zero might even be more accurate.”
In The Players Tribune, Arike Ogunbowale called McGraw “by far the best coach that I’ve had.”
“Now she can finally enjoy what she’s built over all of those years. We stressed her out literally 365 days a year. That’s 365 days a year for 33 years that she’s been thinking about this team, “Ogunbowale wrote, adding, “I watched her lead by example for four years. And that’s really all I needed.”
— Arike Ogunbowale (@Arike_O) April 22, 2020
A champion for women in sports and beyond
McGraw was consistently unapologetic in her demand for progress for women in sports and beyond.
In her later years at Notre Dame, McGraw had an all-female supporting cast. When writer Lindsay Gibbs interviewed the coaching legend for Think Progress in March 2019, she asked McGraw “if she’d ever hire a male coach again.”
McGraw gave a definitive no.
“She didn’t hedge for even a second,” Gibbs said on Twitter Wednesday. “She gave others permission to stop hedging, too.”
Reporters asked McGraw to clarify the comments during a media availability before her team suited up for the Final Four the following month.
“Men run the world,” she replied. “Men have the power. Men make the decisions. It’s always the man that is the stronger one … We don’t have enough female role models. We don’t have enough visible women leaders. We don’t have enough women in power.”
McGraw added: “When these girls are coming out, who are they looking up to to tell them that’s not the way it has to be? Where better to do that than in sports? All these millions of girls that play sports across the country, we’re teaching them great things about life skills, but wouldn’t it be great if we could teach them to watch how women lead?”
Coach @MuffetMcGraw has always been about empowering women.
— Notre Dame WBB ???? (@ndwbb) April 4, 2019
Ogunbowale said McGraw spoke that way “just about every day.”
“People got to see a little bit of it when that clip of her at that press conference went viral,” she wrote for The Players’ Tribune. “That’s something that we got for four years. Every woman that’s passed through that program has heard a version of that speech.”
She added: “One of her biggest things was, she always always impressed on us the idea that our platforms mattered, that we needed to use them for good, especially for women.”
McGraw regularly drilled her team with trivia about women’s history during conditioning, according to Ogunbowale. If players got the answers wrong, they’d have to run.
“She dealt with a lot of inequality,” Ogunbowale wrote. “That’s why she tries to uplift women as much as she can and be a leader for women.”
It’s only fitting, then, that McGraw successor is a woman. Niele Ivey, the point guard of Notre Dame’s first national championship team and a longtime assistant on McGraw’s coaching staff, will take the helm after a brief stint with the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2019-20 NBA season.
“She will be a fantastic role model and a leader in the women’s empowerment movement,” McGraw said of Ivey.
In her farewell press conference, McGraw also said she doesn’t plan to retire from working as an activist.
McGraw ends her presser: "Anything that helps women, I'm going to be there."
— Ava Wallace (@avarwallace) April 22, 2020
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