Lindsay Whalen after stepping down from Gophers: 'I am a human being'

Lindsay Whalen’s time as the University of Minnesota women’s basketball coach came to a close on Thursday after five seasons.

Whalen went 71-76 over that time, and 38-52 in Big Ten play. In her final game on the sidelines, the Gophers went on a 20-5 fourth quarter run to tie Penn State 66-66 with less than a minute to play after facing a 21-3 deficit in the first quarter. But the Gophers couldn’t finish in a 72-67 loss at the Big Ten Tournament.

Gophers’ Athletic Director Mark Coyle spoke with reporters at a Thursday afternoon news conference, calling her decision to step down "mutual." She will stay on in the department as an assistant to Coyle. A press release sent out by the school said Whalen would join Coyle at the news conference. Minutes before it started, one microphone was removed and it was just Coyle speaking at Athletes Village.

It led to speculation that perhaps the decision wasn’t mutual.

Whalen was on the elevator down when the reality hit her that an era was over. Overcome with emotion, she decided that wasn’t the time to talk. Though it didn’t require an explanation, Whalen gave one on social media Thursday night.

"Close circuit to all local media: I will be ‘appearing’ and ‘showing up’ for a press conference in the near future. My sincere apologies for not being there today as I was overcome with emotion in the elevator on my way to the press conference. I am a human being," Whalen said. "Also, I’ve shown up every single day while playing at the U, playing for the Lynx and coaching at the U. Add up the years. Apologies if this hasn’t been enough. I’ll be available when the time is right."

There was no need for Whalen to apologize. She’s done everything in her life to advance and grow Minnesota basketball. Star guard Mara Braun offered her reaction on Thursday on social media.

"I wish we could’ve won more games so this didn’t have to happen. This has been a very disappointing day and I want to thank Lindsay and staff for an amazing freshman year. I was fortunate to learn a lot this year from a great group of people. I’ll forever be thankful," Braun said.

The thought was Whalen might get one more year with a highly-touted class of Minnesota-born players in Braun, Mallory Heyer, Amaya Battle and Nia Holloway all likely back next season. Despite going 11-19 and just 4-14 in the Big Ten, they’ve given no indications of leaving the program.

Whalen led the Gophers to their only Final Four appearance in 2003. She single-handedly brought fans to watch women’s basketball at Williams Arena. She won championships with the Lynx, and Olympic gold.

Her stardom on the court didn’t translate to the sideline, between NIL and the transfer portal creating struggles and inconsistency in the program. She’s won some recruiting battles, but also has had to discipline players and had several transfer after last season. The last four seasons, the Gophers have done no better than 10th in the Big Ten.

Coyle took a big gamble in 2018, hiring Whalen to be a Division I head coach without any previous experience. This is proof that although Whalen is a Hall-of-Fame player, it doesn’t guarantee coaching success.

Ben Johnson and the Gophers men got a buzzer-beater from Jamison Battle Thursday night to beat Rutgers 75-74, ending a 12-game losing streak. One of the first people to reach out to Johnson post game? Whalen, on the day she decided to stop coaching the program she’s given most of her life to.

"That’s who she is. One of the most selfless people, she’s a Gopher through and through and I’m glad she’s going to be around. It’s been great, we obviously played here together. She showed up every day to work, and I’m glad she’s around," Johnson said. "She’s a big part of what we’re doing here, and everybody knows it. It speaks to who she is, on a day like today, to reach out. She will be fine."

Whalen will never be forgotten in Minnesota basketball, but it was time for a change.