ALBANY — When Colleen Mullen was offered the women’s basketball head coaching position at the University at Albany last week, the first person she told was her wife Lauren Mullen.
Then, as soon as that conversation was complete, Lauren Mullen made the call to her bosses at New York University to let them know they needed a new head coach.
She was stepping down, as her wife was stepping up.
“For us, when we got married and decided to have a family, we always said it was going to be an easy decision to make if we made the decisions that were the best for our family,” Lauren Mullen said Tuesday, minutes after Colleen Mullen was introduced as the 12th head coach in UAlbany women’s basketball program history at SEFCU Arena. “Always, for us, it’s about our family. . . . We knew she was going to accept this job if she got the offer. It was a no-brainer. We felt like she’d be a great fit for it, so we were ready to go.”
Colleen Mullen comes to UAlbany after seven seasons on the coaching staff at Army, the last six as the program’s associate head coach.
“I know we have a tremendous amount of talent coming back and we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with, as usual, in the America East,” Colleen Mullen said of the Great Danes, a program she takes over from Joanna Bernabei-McNamee that's notched seven 20-win seasons.
Meanwhile, Lauren Mullen spent the last six seasons as women’s basketball head coach at NYU. There, Lauren Mullen — who coached as Lauren Hall-Gregory, but had legally switched her name after the couple’s May 2014 wedding — compiled a 103-58 record and made five Division III postseason appearances before her resignation was announced Sunday.
“She was a terrific head coach,” Colleen Mullen, who signed a five-year contract with UAlbany, said of her spouse. “Now I’ll get to have a volunteer assistant at the house.”
UAlbany athletic director Mark Benson said there are state rules that would prohibit Colleen Mullen from hiring Lauren Mullen as an assistant coach, but the Mullens weren’t interested in that, anyways. The couple, married four years ago and with three young children, had long prepared for the decision that was made last week: Colleen Mullen gets to continue her coaching career, while Lauren Mullen’s — at least, for now — goes on hold.
“My main role is to help with this transition for her,” Lauren Mullen said. “I get to be a mom, a wife and a support system. That’s my job right now.”
For years, the Mullens simultaneously worked to rise in the coaching ranks. They met as assistant coaches at Lehigh, but their careers took them to separate programs for the last decade.
At times, they coached against each other as assistant coaches. Then, they settled into a routine, with Lauren Mullen coaching at NYU and Colleen Mullen coaching at Army.
“We lived right smack in the middle,” Lauren Mullen said of their Ossining home, which they plan to leave to move to the Albany area. “Every morning, I went one way and she went the other — and we made it work.”
“It took a village,” Colleen Mullen said of the support the couple received from neighbors and family members in helping to look after their children.
(Daughter Maggie is 2, while twin sons Brennan and Callan are almost 1. Colleen Mullen gave birth to the couple’s three children. “She’s busy,” Lauren Mullen said of her spouse. “She’s a rock star.”)
But the plan — the hope, really — had always been that one of the two women would land a Division I head coaching job, and the other would then move to a support role because of the time-consuming nature of the (high-paying) job. Over the years, each has had opportunities to take new jobs, but the one at UAlbany for Colleen Mullen was the first deemed good enough to make the leap for the family.
“To be honest, both of us were very selective,” Colleen Mullen said. “In this business, a lot of people go after every job that opens up, but that’s not who we are.”
In Colleen Mullen, Benson said UAlbany was confident it had found the right successor for Bernabei-McNamee, who left the Great Danes last month to become the head coach at Boston College.
“The more people you talked to that knew [Colleen Mullen], the same things kept coming back: she’s a great leader, a rising star and ready to be a head coach,” Benson said of the 37-year-old.
Those qualities were on display Tuesday, as Colleen Mullen publicly accepted the UAlbany job with poise and confidence. She promised to continue the program’s winning tradition, but also to make sure her players were groomed to become strong leaders away from the court. A solid sense of humor was on display, too, as Colleen Mullen fielded a question about following in the footsteps of Bernabei-McNamee and why she felt confident she could do that.
“She told me she [wears] size 6s,” Colleen Mullen deadpanned, “and mine are 6.5s.”
That line drew laughter from the crowd. In the back of it, Lauren Mullen beamed while holding one of her twin sons.
“It feels really good to watch her enjoy this moment,” Lauren Mullen said.