Pack's Jane Albright announces retirement after 33 seasons

Chris Murray , cmurray@rgj.com

Published 8:10 a.m. PT March 1, 2017 

Jane-Albright-image.jpg

(Photo: Andy Barron/RGJ)

Jane Albright’s coaching career began at Spartanburg (S.C.) High School in 1977 and included stops at Tennessee, Cincinnati, Northern Illinois, Wisconsin and Wichita State. It will end at Nevada.

On Wednesday, Albright announced her retirement during a teary-eyed press conference attended by about 100 of her players, assistant coaches, Wolf Pack co-workers, UNR professors and long-time fans of the program. She will coach her last game at next week's Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas.

“Forty years is a long time to be blessed in this profession," said Albright, who joked her starting salary at Spartanburg High was $500. "In 1977 some of you people weren’t even around yet. That was back when gas was 70 cents a gallon. I got my first team, I had just graduated from college, it was before Title IX was passed. It was a long time ago. The lord has really blessed me.”

Albright, 61, has spent the last 33 seasons as a Division I head coach, including the last nine years at Nevada, and has piled up 512 career wins. She ranks among the top 35 active coaches in the nation in wins. Albright reached nine NCAA Tournament appearances and four WNITs, including a 2000 WNIT title.

But, to those who have been around her during her tenure at Nevada, it's the not the wins and losses she will be remembered for. It's her overall impact, not only on her players but also on her community.

“One of the things I talk about a lot with our staff, with our boosters, with our community, we talk about our mission and values," Nevada athletic director Doug Knuth said. "What we stand for here. What we’re all about. Our mission is pretty simple: to support the educational mission of the University of Nevada. We do that in three different ways. We provide opportunities to our student-athletes in academics, athletics and socially. We inspire leadership and prepare them for life. And we engage our community in a meaningful way. There’s nobody who embodies that mission more than Jane Albright.”

Albright’s college coaching career began in 1981 when she was a graduate assistant for legendary coach Pat Summitt. Albright assisted on the Vols' first NCAA Final Four team in 1982 and earned her first full-time assistant job at the University of Cincinnati in 1983. She was hired a head coach the next year at age 28 and became the winningest coach in program history at her first two head-coaching stops: Northern Illinois and Wisconsin.

At Northern Illinois, Albright was 188-110 in 10 seasons with three conference titles and four NCAA Tournament appearances. She then moved onto Wisconsin, which was coming off losing seasons in nine of the previous 10 years. Albright went 161-107 in nine years with the Badgers, including five NCAA Tournament appearances, one WNIT championship and one WNIT runner-up finish. She resigned from Wisconsin following a 7-21 record during the 2002-03 season after not being offered a long-term extension.

Albright then moved onto Wichita State, where she went 48-95 in five seasons, before being hired by Nevada in June 2008. During her nine seasons at Nevada, Albright is 115-163 overall and 59-89 in league. Her tenure at Nevada has included two of the three WNIT appearances in school history as well as the Wolf Pack's lone 20-win campaign.

After 40 years in the coaching profession, Albright said she's ready to slow life down and give back to the community that has supported her program over the years.

“If you’re in athletics, you work your tail off," Albright said. "This has been 40 years of work and work and work. Quite honestly, it’s time to move out of the way and let somebody else do all of those things. I don’t want to be an A-lister. I want to turn my A-list in. I don’t want to travel every weekend. I don’t have any regrets. This is the greatest profession. It’s awesome. It’s the greatest profession. But the demands of coaching take away a lot of the quality of your life.”

The Wolf Pack is 11-17 this season and 5-12 in the MW, tied for ninth in the 11-team league. Nevada will end its regular season Saturday at Colorado State before playing in next week’s MW Tournament in Las Vegas.

Albright inherited a strong team after being hired at Nevada and started her tenure off successfully. The Wolf Pack had winning records in her first three seasons, including a program-best 22-11 mark in 2010-11. It reached the WAC Tournament final – the only conference tournament title game in program history – in 2009, falling to Fresno State, 56-49. The Wolf Pack went to the WNIT in 2010 and 2011 and picked up the school’s first postseason win, a 65-62 victory over Saint Mary’s in 2011.

Albright also led Nevada to its biggest win in program history, an 85-82 upset over No. 7-ranked Louisville in 2008. Two of her players, Tahnee Robinson and Mimi Mungedi, were selected in the WNBA draft. They're the only two to be drafted into the WNBA in program history.

The program in recent years. In the last six seasons, the Wolf Pack has had five losing campaigns, including four seasons with single-digit win totals. During that stretch, the Wolf Pack is 57-122 overall and 30-72 in conference.

Nevada went through back-to-back injury-riddled years in 2014-15 and 2015-16, going 14-46 in those seasons. That included a 5-25 campaign last year when the team lost three starters to torn ACLs in the first week of the season. Albright received a one-year extension after last season that ran through April 1. While the injury bug hasn’t bit this season, the Wolf Pack has still struggled. It ranks 285th out of 349 teams D-I teams in RPI.

“I know we haven’t won a lot of games the last couple of years and nobody seemed to even notice that," Albright said. "Our fans still came and wanted to talk about all of these wonderful kids we had. ... We have been able to educate and not just depend on the bottom line, and that’s been a blessing for me.”

In 2014, Albright won the Carol Eckman Award, given to the active coach who best demonstrates the character of Eckman, the mother of the collegiate women’s basketball national championship.

Albright, who was inducted into the Northern Illinois Hall of Fame in 2003, was the head coach of USA Basketball’s gold medal-winning Jones Cup team in 1996. She was an assistant on USA Basketball’s Junior National team in 1992 and led the 1991 U.S. Olympic Festival South team to a gold medal. The four-time conference coach of the year was a Naismith Coach of the Year finalist at Wisconsin in 2001.

In Albright’s first 18 years as a head coach, she posted 15 winning seasons and 11 postseason appearances (nine NCAA tournaments). Success has been more fleeting over the last 15 seasons in which her teams have gone 170-279, including five winning campaigns. Her career record is 512-475.

Nevada’s women’s basketball program, which dates 1899 but began in 1981-82 for record-keeping sake, has long struggled.

The school is 387-635 all-time in women's basketball. Albright, the second-winningest coach in program history, will leave Nevada with the third-highest winning percentage in school history at 41.4 percent. Only Anne Hope (42.3 percent) and Ada Gee (42.1 percent) had superior winning percentages than Albright, who earned high marks from Nevada’s administration for her ability to connect with the community.

“When you talk about engaging the community in a meaningful way, it’s not even close," Knuth said. "Nobody does it better than Jane Albright. Community service alone, there’s not another team that does more community service than Jane Albright’s teams.”

Whoever inherits the Wolf Pack job will join a MW that appears to be improving in women’s basketball. Two years ago, the MW ranked 22nd out of 31 D-I conferences in RPI. Last year, that number improved to 20th. This season, the MW ranks 13th, its best position since being 12th in 2010-11, which was when the MW included Utah, BYU and TCU before massive realignment transformed the national landscape.

Nevada could be looking at a nice-sized budget, by Wolf Pack standards, for Albright’s successor. Albright made $189,765.84 in guaranteed money this season, the third most among Nevada coaches behind only football’s Brian Polian ($585,000) and men’s basketball Eric Musselman ($400,000).

But, beyond contracts and wins and losses, Albright will be remembered for how she made others better, both on and off the court.

“I don’t think she goes out to create great basketball players," Robinson said. "She tries to create great people. She creates great student-athletes and she gets people prepared for life. That’s a very unique thing. With a lot of Division I coaches, it’s all about basketball. It’s about, 'What can you do for me?' It’s, ‘I need you to score this many points. I need you to get your stats up.’ For her, it’s never been about that. It’s always been about what kind of person will you be when you leave the nest of Nevada and how will you be productive in life?”

Albright, who lives about 5 minutes from campus, said there's no doubt the nine best years of her life have come in Reno. She plans on retiring in Northern Nevada and getting more involved in local charities while traveling to see old friends she hasn't had enough time to catch up with.

She will, of course, become a Wolf Pack women's basketball season-ticket holder, too.

“I told my team last night, you better work your tails off this offseason because I’m a fan, I’m going to give money to the program and I expect not just good citizenship but I expect some victories," Albright said with a laugh.

http://www.rgj.com/story/sports/college/nevada/2017/03/01/packs-jane-albright-expected-announce-retirement-today/98578630/

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