Baylor hired Atlanta Dream head coach Nicki Collen to replace Kim Mulkey, who left for the LSU job following the 2020-21 season.
Mack Rhoades, Baylor vice president and athletic director, issued a statement on the move:
Today is an exciting day for Baylor University and our women's basketball program. Nicki is a passionate leader of young women and an elite basketball mind and teacher of the game. She is a great mission fit who shares in our vision of Preparing Champions for Life by commanding excellence both on and off the court. Nicki's professional experience will be invaluable to developing players for the next level. Her addition sustains our commitment to the women's basketball program at the highest level. We welcome Nicki, her husband Tom and children, Connor, Reese and Logan, to the Baylor family.
The timing of Collen's hiring was surprising as the Dream are set to tip off the 2021 WNBA regular season against the Connecticut Sun on May 14.
Dream star Chennedy Carter reacted to the news:
This continued an internal upheaval for the Dream, who fired team president and general manager Chris Sienko in late April. Kelly Loeffler and Mary Brock also sold their ownership stake in the franchise to a group that includes former Dream star Renee Montgomery.
While not one of the top title contenders, Atlanta seemingly has a bright future. The team added Cheyenne Parker and Tianna Hawkins in the offseason and has Tiffany Hayes back after she sat out last year. The Dream also selected Aari McDonald with the No. 3 pick in the draft to pair with Carter in the backcourt.
Sienko and the front office were laying the groundwork for long-term success. His and Collen's departures cast a shadow over the organization.
While the outcome was unexpected, Baylor was bound to poach a prominent college or WNBA coach to fill Mulkey's shoes. Mulkey turned the program into a powerhouse, with the Lady Bears winning three national titles under her watch.
Collen does come with some level of risk, though. The Dream finished with the Eastern Conference's best record (23-11) in 2018 before going 15-41 over the next two years. Though she worked as an assistant at multiple programs, including Louisville and Arkansas, the 45-year-old hasn't been a head coach at the college level.
Keeping Baylor in the national championship conversation in 2021-22 won't be easy. DiDi Richards and DiJonai Carrington moved on to the WNBA, while freshman center Hannah Gusters transferred to LSU.
The Lady Bears still have NaLyssa Smith, and Mulkey signed graduate transfer Jordan Lewis from Alabama before leaving.
Beyond returning to her home state, though, Mulkey might have sensed the program was approaching a downturn after it maintained such a high level for years.
It'll be up to Collen to guide Baylor on another deep run in the NCAA tournament in 2022.