A tough season turned into a tough decision for athletic director Rick George and a tough day in the Colorado athletic department.
On Monday, George and Colorado announced that women's basketball coach Linda Lappe won't return for her seventh season with the Buffaloes. The announcement comes less than a week after the Buffs set a program record for losses in a season, going 7-23. It's the third year in a row that the Buffs' record declined.
"It was just time to move in a new direction," said George, who met with Lappe and senior women's administrator Ceal Barry on Sunday. "We talked about the program and the future and really came to the mutual decision to make a change in leadership."
In addition to Lappe, assistant coaches Julian Assibey and Kelly Rae Finley and director of operations Miriam Rutzen were also let go, effectively immediately.
Assistant coach Jamie Carey and director of video and recruiting operations Mike Petrino have been asked to stay aboard for now.
"They will stay on and Jamie will make decisions for the program moving forward," George said.
Lappe, who played for the Buffs from 1998-2003, had three years remaining on a contract that runs through April 30, 2019. She earned roughly $292,000 per year in base and supplemental salary and is owed about $827,000 for the next three years. George said the school would honor that contract.
"Like anything else, we'll have to budget for it, and we'll do that," George said. "Through our fundraising efforts and through ticket sales and through our normal business, we'll make sure that we've got it accounted for over the next three years."
Coaching CU was a dream job for Lappe, who was hired in 2010 to replace Kathy McConnell-Miller.
"I will forever be grateful for all the positive experiences CU has given me," Lappe said in a press release. "I feel honored to have been the coach here for the past six years and I want to thank president (Bruce) Benson, chancellor (Phil) DiStefano and former athletic director Mike Bohn for this opportunity. I also want to thank my staff and players for all the hard work they have put into the program. I'm confident Colorado women's basketball can return to national prominence."
Lappe posted a 105-92 record during her tenure, including an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2013 - breaking a nine-year Tournament drought for the Buffs - and three trips to the WNIT. After going 25-7 in 2012-13, the Buffs opened the 2013-14 season at 9-0 and vaulted to No. 11 in the national rankings.
It's been a steady decline since, as the Buffs are 32-55 since that 9-0 start in 2013-14. Over the last three years, the Buffs are 14-40 in Pac-12 play and they've posted back-to-back losing seasons.
This season, the Buffs went 7-23 overall, 2-16 in the Pac-12 and 0-14 on the road - the first time since 1975 that they didn't win a single game away from Boulder. Their season ended with a 67-51 loss to Washington on Wednesday in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament in Seattle.
During her tenure, Lappe had trouble keeping her coaching staff together (eight assistants in six years) and struggled on the recruiting trail. Attendance has dipped dramatically the past three years as well. This season, CU's average attendance was just 2,087 - a 36 percent drop from the 2012-13 season.
Despite all of that, Lappe was praised for her work off the court, where she helped the overall grade-point average of the team go from 2.49 before she arrived to 2.99 during the fall semester. Lappe also was well-liked among her peers in the athletic department, making the decision more difficult for CU.
"It was extremely difficult for both of us, and obviously for Ceal, as well," George said. "I have a great respect for Linda. Nobody works harder than Linda. She worked her tail off to get this program where it needs to be. I admire and respect what she did, and she came in and initially did some really good things. We just haven't had the success that we wanted."
The search for a successor will begin immediately, George said. He has not determined if he'll form a search committee and said he's considering using a search firm. There is no timetable to hire a new coach, he said.
George said Barry will be "very involved" with the process, but said, "At the end of the day, I'll make the decision on the next coach."
As of Monday, George said no candidates have been identified. He also said CU is not necessarily set on hiring an experienced head coach.
"We're going to go out and try to hire the best coach that we believe can bring Colorado basketball back to prominence," he said. "We want the best head coach that we can find and we haven't defined what that means. We expect to compete for and win championships at Colorado and we're going to hire somebody that allows us to do that."