Muffet McGraw, Legendary Notre Dame Women's Basketball Coach, Retires

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2020

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 04: Head coach Muffet McGraw of Notre Dame University during a game between Pitt and Notre Dame at Greensboro Coliseum on March 04, 2020 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw retired Wednesday, the school announced

McGraw issued a statement following her decision:

"It has been my great honor 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. I want to thank Monk Malloy and Father Jenkins for giving me the opportunity to coach the game I love at a university I love. I have learned much about leadership from the many athletic directors with whom I have served, and in particular, I want to thank Jack Swarbrick for his unwavering support."

Notre Dame finished as the NCAA tournament runner-up in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2019, and it claimed its second national championship in 2018.

McGraw retires with 936 victories, sixth-most among all Division I coaches. She led the Fighting Irish to 31 20-win seasons, 24 straight NCAA tournament appearances and nine Final Fours. She also coached 22 All-Americans and 20 players who went on to play in the WNBA.

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In 2017, she became the 13th female coach inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. 

The school announced Niele Ivey will succeed McGraw.

Ivey was a member of the 2001 national championship-winning squad. She worked as an assistant under McGraw for 12 years before accepting a role on the Memphis Grizzlies' staff last August.

The Fighting Irish labored through a difficult 2019-20 season.

They opened the year as the No. 16 team in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 14 in the Coaches Poll, a preseason outlook that didn't take into account how difficult it would be to replace so many key players from a year ago.

McGraw watched three players (Jackie Young, Arike Ogunbowale and Brianna Turner) get selected in the first round of the 2019 WNBA draft. Another two (Jessica Shepard and Marina Mabrey) were off the board in the second round.

Not surprisingly in retrospect, Notre Dame went 13-18, a drop of 22 wins from 2018-19.

The season was not befitting of McGraw's massive legacy on the sideline. She steadily built the Fighting Irish into a national powerhouse and one of the best programs in college basketball over the last decade.

The infrastructure is in place for the Fighting Irish to return to the national title conversation.

Leading scorer Destinee Walker is leaving, but she's the only regular starter out the door. The school has four of the top 50 recruits in HoopGurlz's player rankings for 2020.

Ivey's time as a player and coach at Notre Dame should ease in the transition as well.

However, Tennessee is an example of how difficult it can be to replace a legend.

The Lady Vols reached the Elite Eight in three of their first four seasons following Pat Summitt's retirement in 2012, but Holly Warlick, a longtime assistant under Summitt, was unable to get them back to the apex of women's basketball. Tennessee fired Warlick last March and hired Kellie Harper.

Ivey is facing a tall task to carry on the postseason success the Fighting Irish enjoyed under McGraw.