Ken McDonald Was Fired; Could Mary Taylor Cowles Be Next?

By: Jeff Woods
By: Jeff Woods

The Lady Toppers are on the verge of back to back losing seasons for the first time in more than 30 years.

January 27, 2011

At 6-14, the Lady Toppers are on the verge of back to back losing seasons for the first time since 1974-75. Home attendance is down. Fans are unhappy. After ten seasons as head coach, is Mary Taylor Cowles’ on the hot seat?
In terms of sheer volume, the Lady Topper fan base does not match that of the men’s team, but it shares the same passion. And currently, that passion is waning. Judging from attendance, message boards, and just word of mouth, many fans have become apathetic. But why?
Times are tough right now for the Lady Toppers. Here is how WKU stacks up statistically against the rest of Division I (as of Friday):
-285th in scoring offense
-197th in scoring defense
-317th in free throw percentage
-281st in assists
-322nd in turnover margin
-309th in assist/turnover ratio
Those are numbers any team would scoff at, let alone the eleventh winningest program in NCAA history. But the Lady Toppers’ decline has not come suddenly. Statistics suggest WKU has been on a slow but steady decline for several years. Since making the NCAA Tournament in 2008:
          -The Lady Toppers have played in one postseason game, a 17-point loss at home to Illinois in the opening round of the WNIT. 
-The Lady Tops have lost 21 games at E.A. Diddle.
-WKU’s chief rival, Middle Tennessee, has won the past seven meetings between the two programs.
Below are the Lady Toppers’ year-by-year records under Mary Taylor Cowles and how each season ended:
2002-03: 22-9 – Reached NCAA Tournament (lost in 1st round)
2003-04: 20-14 – Lost in quarterfinals of WNIT (lost in Sun Belt Final)
2004-05: 20-10 – Lost in 1st round of WNIT (lost in Sun Belt Semifinals)
2005-06: 27-7 – Lost in semifinals of WNIT (lost in Sun Belt Final)
2006-07: 23-9 – Lost in semifinals of WNIT (lost in Sun Belt Quarterfinals)
2007-08: 26-8 – Reached NCAA Tournament (lost in 1st round)
2008-09: 16-13 – Lost in opening round of Sun Belt Tournament
2009-10: 21-11 – Lost in 1st round of WNIT (lost in Sun Belt Semifinals)
2010-11: 15-17 – Lost in Sun Belt Final (first losing season since 81-82)
One of WKU’s most alarming trends is the number of players who have left the program before exhausting their eligibility. Below is the list of Lady Toppers who have left the program since the 2005-06 season with eligibility remaining:
2005-06 – Shardae Butler, Taylor Kopple
2006-07 – Alicia Bunton, Brianne Brown
2007-08 – Brooke Faulkner, Whitney Ballinger, Adria Jackson
2008-09 – Dalila Thomas
2009-10 – Caitlin House, Courtney Clifton, Lashay Davis
2010-11 – Janae Howard
What happened to those players upon leaving WKU?
-Taylor Kopple – Transferred to Bellarmine University (Division II)
-Brianne Brown – Transferred to Occidental College (Division III)
-Brooke Faulkner – Transferred to Austin Peay
-Adria Jackson – Transferred to Cerritos Community College/Graceland -University (NAIA)
-Whitney Ballinger – Left WKU to play at Campbellsville University (NAIA) was named 2010 and 2011 NAIA Player of the Year
-Dalila Thomas – Transferred to Austin Peay
-Caitlin House – Transferred to Christian Brothers University (Division II)
-Courtney Clifton – Transferred to Campbellsville University (NAIA)
-Lashay Davis – Transferred to Tennessee Tech (no longer on roster)
-Janae Howard – Transferred to St. Catherine College (NAIA)
Those are not the only people who have left. As I mentioned above, home attendance has taken a dive, dropping by more than 50 percent from 2008 to 2011. Here is a year-by-year breakdown since the 2004-05 season:
Average fans per home game
2004-05: 2,056
2005-06: 2,041
2006-07: 2,007
2007-08: 2,746
2008-09: 1,931
2009-10: 1,383
2010-11: 1,305
2011-12: 1,270 (through first seven games)
What does all of this mean? To put it delicately, the program is in a funk. And the immediate future does not look terribly bright either. WKU’s top three scorers this season (LaTeira Owens, Keshia Mosley, Vanessa Obafemi) are seniors and will be gone next year along with fellow seniors Jasmine Johnson and Teranie Thomas. The Lady Tops will have zero seniors next year and just three juniors.
So I go back to my original question: is Mary Taylor Cowles on the hot seat? If men’s and women’s basketball are viewed as equals in the eyes of Ross Bjork, how can she not be? Ken McDonald was fired due to below average performance on the court and sagging attendance figures, the same offenses the women’s program is guilty of. On that basis alone, Cowles should be concerned for her job. But are the two programs viewed as equals? Should they be viewed as equals? My initial response is no. But given the tradition and history of the women’s program, I’m not so sure.
Readers, now I throw it back to you. What is the future of Lady Topper basketball? Is Mary Taylor Cowles on the hot seat? Should WKU make a change?  Would Western be justified if they let her go?
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