Stillwater, Okla., wasn’t Julie Goodenough’s first rodeo.
But heading back there 15 years later to lead Abilene Christian University into a women’s basketball battle against against her former team, Goodenough admits the bull was bigger than she thought.
“I honestly had no clue,” she recalls, “about the vast difference between coaching in the Big 12 and the American Southwest Conference.”
In April 2002, after guiding Division III Hardin-Simmons University to 188 wins, seven conference titles and six trips to the national playoffs, Goodenough left Abilene for the bright lights and big expectations of the Big 12 Conference. At 33, she was the youngest head coach in Division I.
“I loved my job at HSU and had not really thought about leaving,” Goodenough says. “When the opportunity to coach at Oklahoma State presented itself, I was so excited and unbelievably thankful. Based on my success at HSU, I was totally confident I could turn the OSU program around.”
The OSU program had been led the previous 19 seasons by Dick Halterman, who directed the Cowgirls to a conference title and seven NCAA Tournament appearances when they were members of the old Big 8. But when that league merged with four Southwest Conference teams to create the Big 12, wins in women’s basketball were tougher to come by. Suddenly, those Big 8 schools were tangling twice a year in conference with coaching legends Jody Conradt of The University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tech University’s Marsha Sharp, each of whom had won a national championship.
OSU went 39-57 in conference games during its first six seasons of Big 12 play. Halterman was on the hot seat, which was set completely ablaze by a flaming Coale. Sherri Coale had lifted the archrival University of Oklahoma program from women’s basketball obscurity to national prominence. No Sooner had OU reached the NCAA Tournament championship game in 2002 than OSU made a change. Halterman out, Goodenough in.
It didn’t take long for her to realize what and where she had gotten herself into.
“I had never had even one full-time assistant in my career,” remembers Goodenough. “At OSU I hired a full staff of coaches and also support staff. Recruiting the entire country was also foreign to me. My recruiting area had mainly been a 250-mile radius around the Big Country. I was definitely learning my job day by day.”
She also was instantly managing a multi-million-dollar budget after nearly a decade of the coupon-clipping necessitated by the limited resources of Division III. And if anything, Big 12 competition had grown even tougher. By the time Goodenough got to OSU in 2002, Kim Mulkey had put Baylor University on the map of women’s hoops and would win a pair of national championships over the next decade.
“It was a great experience to coach against Marsha Sharp, Jody Conradt and Kim Mulkey,” says Goodenough. “You’ve got to be so prepared. There’s not much margin for error.”
Especially not in the world of big-time college athletics. Goodenough’s teams struggled to slay those giants of women’s basketball. And after three seasons, OSU made a change. Goodenough was hired at age 33 and fired before turning 36.
“It feels bad,” says Goodenough, “being told you’re no longer wanted.”
Turns out Goodenough was wanted, just by someone else. After a year off, she was named head basketball coach at Charleston Southern University, where she spent six seasons before being hired to lead ACU into Division I. In her five seasons with the Wildcats – four of them against Division I competition – Goodenough’s teams have won three conference championships. Her record here is 104-43, and overall she is closing in on 400 career coaching victories.
And for a second straight season, with ACU in its final year of being ineligible for the Southland Conference or NCAA tournaments, Goodenough has taken the Wildcats to the most prestigious postseason event possible, the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, and a date with – of all teams – those Cowgirls of Oklahoma State. It will be her first time inside Gallagher-Iba Arena since she was the OSU coach.
The memories have come flooding back this week as she returns to the place that made her a Division I head coach for the first time. Not all of them are good. But they are enough, personally and professionally.
“My family loved Stillwater,” Goodenough reflects. “Our daughters both accepted Christ and were baptized there. At OSU, I learned how to coach at the DI level and did so by coaching against some of the greatest women’s basketball coaches ever. I made tons of mistakes which have helped me become a better coach today.”
When the WNIT bracket was revealed late Monday night, Goodenough acknowledged the past to the cheering crowd assembled but celebrated the present.
“I will always consider it a privilege and a blessing to have coached in the Big 12,” she said. “I will tell you, though, currently I have the best job in America.”
ACU plays Oklahoma State in round one of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament tonight at 7 p.m. in Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla. The game can be heard on 98.1 FM in Abilene or on acusports.com.