After one of the worst seasons in program history, the Colorado women’s basketball team began its offseason on Friday.
It’s an offseason that is sure to be busy for a team that went 7-23 overall (2-16 in the Pac-12) and will lose its best player — forward Jamee Swan — to graduation.
Yet before the Buffaloes start working on the 2016-17 season, the CU administration has a big decision on its hands.
Head coach Linda Lappe has posted a 105-92 record during her six seasons with the Buffs, but her program is in the midst of a three-year decline that has taken them from the NCAA Tournament to the bottom of the Pac-12 barrel.
Does CU keep Lappe, a former CU player who has passion for making this program great again? Or do the Buffs stop the bleeding by hiring someone else to take the reins?
Finances will surely play a role in any decision, and it would not be cheap to fire Lappe. She has three years left on a contract that pays her roughly $292,000 per year in base and supplemental salary. The athletic department could owe her as much as $827,000 if it decides to let her go.
Then again, if athletic director Rick George has proven anything during his 2½ years on the job, it’s that he knows how to find money when he needs it. If he’s not a believer in Lappe, he’ll make the finances work to replace her.
At this point, it’s fair to wonder if CU administrators still believe in Lappe.
To her credit, Lappe went 64-37 during her first three seasons and guided the Buffs to the NCAA Tournament in 2013, ending a nine-year tournament drought. The next season, the Buffs started 9-0 and vaulted to No. 11 in the national rankings.
It can’t be ignored, however, that Lappe’s early teams were led primarily by players recruited by her predecessor, Kathy McConnell-Miller. The best of those players, two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection Chucky Jeffery, graduated in 2013.
Since that 9-0 start in 2013-14, the Buffs are 32-55, including 14-40 in the Pac-12. Playing exclusively with her own recruits the last two seasons, Lappe is 22-40 overall and 8-28 in the Pac-12.
Through it all, the Buffs have seen a dramatic dip in attendance, Lappe has struggled to keep her coaching staff together (eight assistants in six years), and recruiting has left much to be desired.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college program, but CU simply hasn’t measured up to its Pac-12 foes.
To this point, Lappe has had 18 of her recruits suit up for the Buffs, and not one has earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors, despite that list featuring a whopping 15 players each year.
Lappe’s most decorated recruit — 2013 Pac-12 freshman of the year Arielle Roberson — didn’t want to finish her career in Boulder. Roberson transferred to West Virginia this season, and earlier this week earned All-Big 12 honorable mention.
In-state recruiting has been nearly nonexistent under Lappe. Of the 22 players she has signed, only one — current junior Lauren Huggins — came from a Colorado high school. According to chsaanow.com, 41 in-state players have signed with Division I schools the past three years, none of them with CU.
On the plus side for Lappe, she did sign her best class last year. All five players she brought in this past season appear to have the talent to be significant contributors. Point guard Kennedy Leonard earned Pac-12 All-Freshman team honors this week, the first Buff to do that since Roberson.
Lappe’s own struggles to recruit in recent years, however, led to CU relying heavily on those freshmen. That, in turn, led to the young Buffs being outmatched nearly every night in the Pac-12.
Lappe gave everything she had as a player from 1998-2003, and she’s worked tirelessly as the Buffs’ coach the past six years.
Passion for the program only goes so far, though.
Before the Buffs set their sights on next season, CU’s administration has to determine whether Lappe’s ability matches her passion.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.