Lindsay Whalen steps down as Gophers basketball coach after 5 seasons

The Lindsay Whalen experiment at the University of Minnesota is over.

Gophers' Athletic Director Mark Coyle announced Thursday Whalen is stepping down as the school's women’s basketball coach after five seasons. The Gophers finished 11-19 overall this season, just 4-14 in Big Ten play and had their season end in a 72-67 loss to Penn State on Wednesday at the Big Ten Tournament. 

That’s despite Whalen bringing in the top recruiting class in program history this season, led by four Minnesota natives.

Whalen will stay within the Gophers' athletic department as a special assistant to Coyle, who addressed the decision with reporters Thursday afternoon from Athletes Village. He said talks with Whalen and her future went back to the Final Four in New Orleans. The two had a lengthy conversation less than a month ago, and the decision for Whalen to step down was official Thursday morning, less than 24 hours after the loss to the Nittany Lions.

"As we had those conversations, we felt like it was in the best interest for our program and for her as a person that she step down. We just felt like now was the right time," Coyle said. 

Whalen was scheduled to be at Thursday’s news conference with Coyle, with a second microphone at the table up until just minutes before Coyle walked in. Instead, Whalen deferred to a statement and will speak at a later time.

"I want to thank Mark and the University for giving me the opportunity to lead this program five years ago," Whalen said. "It was an honor of a lifetime. I am grateful to my assistant coaches and staff and want to thank them for everything they did for our student-athletes during the last five years. We did things the right way and created a lot of memories, but now is the right time for me to step aside and return to being a proud alum. I look forward to supporting and cheering on the next head coach."

Coyle said Whalen’s absence was a "miscommunication on my part."

"For Lindsay it’s been an emotional day here, no doubt about that. She’s having conversations with her staff, and I want to be very respectful those conversations," Coyle said.

Whalen took to social media Thursday night to explain her absence, saying she was overcome with emotion on the elevator ride down to the room at Athletes Village.

Whalen went 71-76 in five seasons with the Gophers, including 32-58 in Big Ten play. Coyle took a chance on Whalen in 2018, hiring her to take over a Big Ten program without any previous coaching experience. The Gophers tied for sixth in the Big Ten in her first season. Since? They’ve finished 11th, 10th, 10th and 12th this year. 

In an era of NIL and the NCAA transfer portal, Whalen couldn’t find a way for her success on the court to translate to the sideline.

"We’ve got to figure it out. We have Athletes Village, we have everything in place. There is no reason why it cannot be done here. That’s the question we’ve got to figure out."

As a player, Whalen was a three-time All-American and led Minnesota to its only Final Four appearance in 2003. 

"A lot of people know Minnesota basketball because of Lindsay Whalen. She is an icon. She is Mount Rushmore of Minnesota athletics. Is there any doubt that that history, that background weighs on all our decisions? Every day," Coyle said. "The entire state embraced it, she is Minnesota. We owe so much to her, and none of that has changed."

Coyle said a national search to replace Whalen will begin immediately.