The North Carolina women's basketball job being open for the first time in 33 years was a really big deal. UNC could make a strong statement about the importance of the program, signaling to the ACC and the nation that a school with such an enormous basketball brand name was staking its claim as a giant.
Surely, the job would draw the interest of all but the most entrenched top coaches in the sport. And even they would warrant at least a call. This was Carolina basketball. Regardless of how unpleasant the ending was with longtime coach Sylvia Hatchell, the program always has had gold-mine potential. It was logical to think UNC would look for someone well-positioned to take advantage quickly and decisively. A home run hire, if you will.
Then Tuesday, via teleconference, UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham announced that Courtney Banghart is the new coach. She's gone 245-103 in 12 years at Princeton. That's in the Ivy League, which has a 2-28 all-time record in the NCAA tournament.
Could this turn out well for the Tar Heels? Sure. But it's fair to ask: Was this the very best résumé UNC saw? Did the Tar Heels pursue successful coaches from any major conference? Or were they not willing to pay top dollar for a coach with a more extensive track record?
Also, how much consideration was given to Elon's Charlotte Smith, the former Tar Heels player and assistant coach many thought would one day be Hatchell's successor? Smith, a native of North Carolina, made the 3-pointer that won the 1994 NCAA title for the Tar Heels and was an assistant to Hatchell for UNC's two subsequent trips to the Final Four in 2006 and '07. A source with knowledge of the situation said that Smith was interested in the position but that the job was not offered to her.
Was North Carolina intentionally avoiding any past connection to Hatchell with this hire? When asked, Cunningham said no, that it was a case of Banghart being the best candidate. She has no previous ties to the school or the ACC.
"It wasn't that I was looking to leave, but UNC really drew me in," Banghart said Tuesday. "The ACC has so many great basketball coaches and people in it. Those I look up to, and some of my closest friends. It's a real basketball conference, and I'm so honored and humbled to be included in it."
A native of New Hampshire, Banghart played collegiately in that state at Dartmouth. After three years as a high school coach and athletic director in Virginia, she returned to her alma mater as an assistant, then took over at Princeton in New Jersey in 2007. She has taken the Tigers to the NCAA tournament eight times, winning one game in the event.
So the North Carolina job -- which should have been highly coveted -- went to someone who throughout 19 years as a player, assistant and head coach in the Ivy League has won once in an NCAA tournament game.
To be fair, mid-major and small-conference teams consistently get lower seeds, so it's harder to make a mark in the NCAA tournament. Let's look at the regular season: In Banghart's time at Princeton, the Tigers had 11 wins against seven major-conference programs: Rutgers, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Alabama, Southern Cal and Villanova (when it was in the old Big East, still considered a major conference).
Now, she'll be in a conference regularly going against the likes of two-time national champion Notre Dame, Louisville, Syracuse, Florida State, Miami, etc., along with, of course, local rivals NC State and Duke. How quickly can she adjust?
This isn't meant to cast aspersions on Banghart or the Ivy League. She might continue to thrive now that she's in a power conference recruiting more elite players. But it is meant to question whether North Carolina actually swung for the fences with this hire. And if the school really does believe this is a home run, why not act like it?
Banghart did her introduction to the media by teleconference Tuesday while she was still in New Jersey. She said she planned to be in Chapel Hill on Wednesday and would meet with the players. But when asked whether the school would have a formal press conference then, a UNC official said no.
So, no attempt to bring more attention to your new women's basketball coach -- we'll say it again: the first in more than three decades -- and very publicly note her arrival? Where was the on-campus announcement with fellow Tar Heels head coaches, returning players (not everybody is transferring), school officials, boosters, cheerleaders, Rameses the mascot, some Carolina blue and white balloons, and all the local TV stations' cameras? The school said Banghart might meet with some local media Wednesday and likely would have a gathering for fans/boosters in "the near future." Well, OK.
Then again, considering the school announced Hatchell's resignation just before midnight on April 18 after putting her and her staff on administrative leave April 1, probably none of this should be a surprise. Nothing with the women's basketball program seems to have been handled with skill. The school either was truly blindsided by the players' complaints against Hatchell, or the signs were there and officials didn't pay the program enough attention to recognize that a storm was developing.
Meanwhile, the report from an independent investigation about Hatchell hasn't been made public, something the Raleigh News & Observer called for in an editorial April 25 in order to get a better sense of all that transpired to end the career of a Naismith Hall of Fame coach.
All this is what Banghart steps into. North Carolina has fallen behind the ACC newcomers who've taken over the league, Notre Dame and Louisville. How fast can the Tar Heels, who've won nine ACC tournament titles but none since 2008, regain ground?
Talent will be a major factor, and Banghart will be recruiting a different caliber of player at North Carolina. (By the way, this past weekend was a major one on the recruiting calendar, but Banghart had not been given the UNC job yet.) The Ivy League doesn't have athletic scholarships, although it has academic and need-based aid. Banghart has had some very good Princeton teams, but she now enters into the full-time shark tank with all the other contenders for top talent.
"I was able to recruit people to Princeton as not only a program but a place," Banghart said. "To utilize that 'brand' of Princeton. It's the same idea here.
"There's going to be a learning curve, like there is in any new journey. The [athletic] scholarship piece, that provides some freedom I haven't had. I also think of my staff, people who are going to have some experience in areas that I don't. I've had to recruit against the scholarships. I think it will be a little easier to utilize [them] to my advantage."
Banghart also said she will talk with all the UNC players, including those in the transfer portal. Four entered that when the season ended; Destinee Walker already has announced she will transfer to Notre Dame.
"I look forward to meeting both sets of people," Banghart said. "After I listen, what I want moving forward is the people who are excited about our journey. Because I know I am."
Banghart, who also has USA Basketball coaching experience, surely knows the task in front of her. She vows she will give it her all, and here's wishing her the best. She might start a whole new successful era for the Tar Heels.
But does Banghart have administrators who truly care and are deeply invested in what should be the huge potential of Carolina women's basketball? Based on what we've seen, that's debatable. Maybe she'll have to coach them on that, too.