The 2020-21 season will be Sherri Coale’s 25th year as head coach of women’s Oklahoma basketball. That makes her one of the longest tenured head coaches in OU athletic history.
Coale has had a lot of success in her time at Oklahoma. She reached 500 career wins last season, but the Lady Sooners have struggled mightily the last few years, which has raised some questions about Coale’s future leading the team.
A native Oklahoman, Coale grew up in Healtdon, Oklahoma, a town about 25 miles east of Ardmore. She attended college at Oklahoma Christian College in Oklahoma City, graduating summa cum laude in 1987. She played guard on the OCC basketball team.
Coale’s only coaching experience before coming to OU was two seasons as a high school assistant at Edmond Memorial (1988-90) and six seasons as the head coach at Norman North High School. She is the ninth head coach of OU women’s basketball. Now in its 47th year as a sanctioned varsity sport, OU actually wanted to drop the women’s program six seasons before Coale arrived on the scene in 1996.
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In her 24 seasons at OU, Coale’s Sooner teams have made 19 NCAA Tournament appearances and three times reached the Final Four, and they’ve won or shared six regular-season conference championships. Oklahoma has missed the postseason the past two seasons, however, while compiling a overall record of 20-40 and just 9-27 in the Big 12. The Sooners’ last conference title was a dozen seasons ago (2008-09).
Coale took over an OU women’s program that was disarray in 1996 and struggling to keep its head above water. Her first two seasons were dismal, winning just 13 of 41 games. By her third season, she barely broke even in wins and losses, going 15-14 overall and 8-8 in the conference. The next season (1999-2000), however, began a three-year run in which the Sooners won no fewer than 25 games every year and made the first of 19 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
The 2001-02 Oklahoma team was arguably Coale’s best. That team went 32-5 (14-2 in the Big 12), the first of three 30-win team’s for the longtime Sooner head coach. The 2001-02 Sooners were the first OU women’s team to make it to the Final Four.
Led by two-time All-American Stacey Dales and LaNeishea Caulfield, the Sooners disposed of their first four opponents, including two teams out of the Big 12, to make it into the Final Four. OU eliminated Duke in the national semifinals before losing to Connecticut, 82-70, for the national championship.
Coale has taken two other Oklahoma teams to the Final Four (2009-10 and 2010-11) and is 31-19 overall in NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Sooners have had 20 winning seasons out of 24 under Coale’s direction. Those 20 winning seasons are perfectly bookended by her four worst: Her first two seasons coaching Oklahoma and her past two seasons.
She has had a highly successful coaching career at Oklahoma is credited with taking a program that just a few years before she got there was on the brink of extinction making it relevant at the national level.
There is no question that the past two seasons of OU women’s basketball have been highly disappointing, and the attendance at Lloyd Noble Center has reflected that dismay. What happens in the 2020-21 season could be the tipping point for Coale. Another season like the previous two will likely mark the end of the road for the winningest Oklahoma women’s coach after 25 mostly successful seasons.
Oklahoma is paying Coale over a million dollars a year, and it is reasonable to assume that they expect more from the women’s program than eight or 12 wins a year. The expression, “What have you done for me lately?” seems to be highly applicable to Coale’s situation at Oklahoma.
She’s still drawing on equity from per past Oklahoma successes, but memories and patience run thin in this business if you’re not winning
To Coale’s credit, she has made several staff changes over the past year in an effort get things back on a winning track. Before this past season, she brought in former Penn State head coach Coquese Washington as an assistant, and in the past month she has hired former All-Americans Jackie Stiles and Courtney Paris as assistants.
The latter two were both first-round WNBA picks. Stiles played college basketball at Missouri State and is the No. 3 all-time scorer in NCAA Division 1 women’s basketball. Paris was a three-time All-American at Oklahoma and is the Sooners’ all-time scoring and rebounding leader.