ALBANY — For the second time in three seasons, the University at Albany women’s basketball program needs a new head coach.
That’s not ideal . . . but it also is not far from it for a mid-major college basketball program from America East.
“For recruiting our next coach, all people look at what happened before — where did the predecessor go?” UAlbany athletic director Mark Benson said Tuesday, not long after UAlbany and Boston College confirmed that Joanna Bernabei-McNamee is set to leave the Great Danes to become head coach for the Eagles. “From that perspective, it makes our job that much more attractive to potential candidates. Certainly, there’s a recognition out there of the strength of the program.”
UAlbany will immediately start a national search to replace Bernabei-McNamee, and the school will do so from a position of strength. The school’s women’s basketball program has put together seven consecutive 20-win seasons, and its last two coaches have each moved on to higher-profile jobs. Before Bernabei-McNamee turned a two-seasons stint at UAlbany into a job in the ACC, Katie Abrahamson-Henderson left in 2016 for Central Florida of the American Athletic Conference.
“Coach Mac left our program better than when she found it — as did Coach Abe,” Benson said.
UAlbany made five straight trips to the NCAAs under Abrahamson-Henderson. Bernabei-McNamee kept the streak alive in her first season in Albany. UAlbany's six consecutive conference tournament titles was the longest active streak in women's basketball before it was ended this season.
After Abrahamson-Henderson left UAlbany, Benson said Bernabei-McNamee quickly became a front-runner for the vacated job. Largely, Benson said, that was because Bernabei-McNamee seemed like the kind of ambitious coach likely to continue UAlbany’s success on the court — and, then, to follow in Abrahamson-Henderson’s footsteps in using that success to further her career.
“We felt like she was a rising star in the coaching profession,” Benson said of Bernabei-McNamee. “So I’m not surprised she got this opportunity to coach in the ACC.”
Bernabei-McNamee lived up to expectations for UAlbany. In two seasons, she went 45-20 and UAlbany played in postseason tournaments each year. UAlbany was 0-2 in those postseason tournaments, as the Great Danes lost to UConn in the 2017 NCAA tournament before falling to Penn in the 2018 NIT.
“She is a proven head coach who can recruit and develop student-athletes, and who has shown she can win at the highest level,” Boston College athletic director Martin Jarmond said in a press release. “She has won at every program she has coached at, including serving as the recruiting coordinator and assistant coach for a national championship team at Maryland. Joanna is one of the best young coaches in the game and brings a unique experience as a program changer at multiple levels to our program at Boston College.”
Benson said he was first informed a little more than a week ago that Bernabei-McNamee potentially could head to Boston College, a program in need of a rebooting after a 7-23 season.
Excited and grateful for this opportunity to come to The Heights! #WeAreBC ?— Joanna B McNamee (@CoachMcNamee) April 10, 2018
“I am grateful for this amazing opportunity,” Bernabei-McNamee said via a Boston College press release, which announced she will be introduced Wednesday as that school’s new coach. “Boston College has a nationally renowned reputation and I am honored to be a part of it.”
Benson said he thought UAlbany might be able to keep Bernabei-McNamee — who made a base salary of $250,000 at UAlbany — for another season or two. Benson said he knew keeping Bernabei-McNamee beyond that would be unlikely at a mid-major program putting together 20-win seasons on a yearly basis.
“That’s just one of the challenges of working at this level,” Benson said. “At the end of the day, we’re really happy for Coach Mac and her family, and thankful for all she did for us.”
Benson said he was unsure which, if any, UAlbany assistant coaches would head to Boston College with Bernabei-McNamee, and that it was too early to know if any players might follow their now ex-coach. Benson said he met Tuesday morning with the members of the women’s basketball program.
“Right now, I think this information is still fresh,” Benson said. “We’ll get back together with the women’s basketball team in a couple days and talk more then about the search process with them.”
Benson said the upcoming search for a new women’s basketball head coach will be one that is “completely fresh” from two years ago. Most serious candidates from that 2016 pool, he said, have since landed a new job and likely wouldn’t be candidates again for an opening at UAlbany.
So, instead, UAlbany will seek to find the next Abrahamson-Henderson or Bernabei-McNamee — and, seemingly, start preparing to go through the same process in a few more years if the program continues to succeed at a high level.
“We’re going to find the best fit for who we are right now,” Benson said.