Deb Patterson has been the face of the Kansas State women’s basketball program for 18 years. Her teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament nine times and she guided the Wildcats to two Big 12 championships. She won more games than anyone in team history, going 350-226.
Those accomplishments made for an uneasy news conference on Sunday, when K-State athletics director John Currie announced that he had fired Patterson.
Though Currie said he was proud of what Patterson had done during her career, he was displeased with the team’s 11-19 record this season and the overall “trajectory” of the program. Some will say Patterson deserved more time to fix the program’s downward trend, which included 5-13 conference records in back-to-back seasons. But Currie said a change was needed in order to return K-State to national prominence.
“This was an incredibly difficult decision to make,” Currie said. “I have great appreciation for Coach Patterson, both as a person and a coach. I want to offer our thanks for her service here. We have a tremendous commitment to success in women’s basketball at K-State. We have a championship tradition.… As we went through the evaluative process, I just felt we were not on a trajectory to get back to the level of achievement that we have experienced in our history and that it was time for new leadership.”
Currie said he informed Patterson of his decision Friday after K-State ended its season with an overtime loss to Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament.
The exchange was difficult for both parties. It was the first time Currie had fired a head coach.
“To be honest, I never foresaw this day,” Currie said. “We did two different contract extensions for Coach Patterson, and I always thought we would be doing another one at some point. I didn’t think we would be in this position. But as the year unfolded and you look at the position we have been in the last five years (85-80), I just didn’t feel right in the transition. I felt that it was time.”
K-State was paying Patterson $600,000 a year.
Currie said he struggled with his decision for about a month, and he spoke with countless people associated with the team before firing Patterson. He said K-State will “be aggressive” finding a replacement, but offered little insight about the search process. He has no timetable in mind, nor any “preconceived candidates.” The search will be conducted on a national scale.
His goal will be to find a coach who can replicate the success Patterson had midway through her tenure. The program peaked in the early 2000s, when the Wildcats qualified for the postseason in eight straight seasons. K-State advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2002, won 29 games in 2003 and regularly competed for conference titles. Big crowds regularly attended games, and seven of Patterson’s players made it to the WNBA.
“Those years are not too far in the rear view mirror,” Currie said. “Those things are the things that are attractive about prospective coaches and we will work very hard to find the person who is the right fit for Kansas State.”