When Texas decided not to renew Karen Aston’s contract in April, it left the women’s basketball team without a head coach and the athletics department with one less woman leading a program.
Texas hired Vic Schaefer, former Mississippi State head coach, after Aston and the Longhorns failed to win an NCAA Tournament game during the 2018- 2019 season, falling short of Texas’ high standards. Although Schaefer’s hiring isn't out of left field, it leaves Texas with just two female head coaches throughout its athletic department: Angela Kelly in soccer and Carol Capitani in women’s swimming and diving. Only 13% of Texas’ head coaches are women, which is barely half the national average, according to the NCAA demographics database.
UT has continually hired women to lead its women’s basketball program after inaugural coach Rodney Page served from 1973-1976. However, many women across the country don’t get the opportunity to coach, as they struggle to overcome others’ idea of the “exceptional woman,” said Lucia Gilbert, an educational psychology professor emeritus.
“In the fields where there are very few women and they apply for positions, they have to be very, very talented and have more experience than men in that same pool,” Gilbert said. “Then the idea is that all women who are going to be coaches are going to be exceptional, and of course, they're not. I think that is one of the barriers, (having) maybe higher expectations for women in these positions than really fits the situation.”
Although Aston and the Longhorns made six-straight NCAA Tournaments, they failed to upend perennial powerhouse Baylor, which went undefeated in Big 12 play from February 2017 to this past March. Texas was the last team to beat the Bears before their 58-game conference-winning streak. Meanwhile, men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart has only led the Longhorns to two NCAA Tournament appearances and was on the bubble to get in this year before COVID-19 caused the remainder of the season to be canceled.
Texas women’s basketball’s historic legacy began under Jody Conradt, who walked the sidelines as the head coach of the women’s basketball team from 1976-2007. Conradt led Texas to three Final Fours, a national championship and over 750 wins in her time as head coach. Conradt said her tenure was much more than just wins and championships, but a chance to break the mold.
“I reflected back on when I was growing up,” Conradt said. “It never occurred to me that I could coach because I didn't see anyone who looked like me coaching. We know that if you see someone who looks like you, then you can accept that as a reality and realistic expectation.”
Since Conradt started coaching, she said she’s seen an influx of men coaching at every level, which she believes takes away opportunities from women.
“Growing up, I've always had a male coach,” junior center Charli Collier said. “It's never been really an issue for me. I've had women coaches as well in AAU.”
While Collier has had coaches of both genders, her male counterparts have never had that experience, as no women currently coach a Division I FBS men’s basketball program.
Conradt said she’s seen a large influx of men into coaching since she started in 1969 and feels that women will be more visible in head-coaching positions if they are allowed the chance to gain experience.
“If we give women an opportunity to get experience and we enlarge the hiring pool, then we can expect that there would be women qualified to move to the next level,” Conradt said.