Patterson ousted as K-State women's coach; Lehning also out
By ARNE GREEN
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Telegram
Just as abruptly as the Kansas State women's basketball season ended Friday with a first-round 87-84 overtime loss to Kansas in the Big 12 Championship, the Deb Patterson coaching era came to a close two days later.
K-State athletics director John Currie announced at a press conference Sunday afternoon that Patterson, the winningest women's coach in school history, has been relieved of her duties after 18 seasons. He appointed associated head coach Kamie Ethridge as interim head coach in charge of the program's day-to-day operations during a search for Patterson's replacement.
"We have a tremendous commitment to success in women's basketball at K-State," Currie said, outlining the school's history as one of the 15 winningest programs in history, a fan base that ranks among the top 30 in the nation and the new basketball training facility that opened last season. "As we went through the evaluative process, I just felt that 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 in our program."
In her 18 seasons, Patterson compiled a 350-226 record that included nine NCAA Tournament appearances, Big 12 regular-season titles in 2002 and 2008 and the 2006 postseason WNIT championship. But the Wildcats were 11-19 overall this season and went 5-13 in the league for the second straight year.
Currie said he will conduct a national search "focused on candidates whose personal values and integrity reflect those of our university and the citizens of the state of Kansas - people who appreciate the opportunity of being part of a special basketball tradition, who understand the advantages of Manhattan and K-State, and who have proven themselves as game coaches, evaluators and recruiters."
While there is no set timetable for naming Patterson's replacement, Currie said time is of the essence.
"I can't promise it will be within 100 hours like it was the last time we went through one of these processes (with men's basketball), but it will be as expeditious as possible," he said. "It will be very thorough, but we will be move to get this thing done just as soon as we can.
"When you have student-athletes who are 18 to 22 years old, who are going through a transition like this, it's a very difficult time and it's a time of great uncertainty. We want to minimize that time of uncertainty."
Currie said he informed Patterson of the decision Friday night at the team hotel in Oklahoma City. The coaching staff told the team Sunday afternoon and Currie met with the players afterward.
But Salina Central High School senior Shaelyn Martin, who signed a letter of intent with K-State in the fall, said Sunday that nobody had contacted her before the press conference.
"It was (a) surprise," said Martin, a 6-foot senior forward who will lead No. 1-ranked Central at the Class 5A state tournament this week in Topeka. "I haven't really heard much yet.
"That's something I have to worry about once state's over. It's kind of hard to think about right now."
If the news took those familiar with the program by surprise, Currie admitted that not even he anticipated making the move.
"We did two different new contracts for coach Patterson since I've been here and I always thought that we'd be doing another one at some point and I didn't think we'd be in this position," he said. "But as the year unfolded and you kind of look at where we've been over the last five years, we just didn't feel right about the transition and I felt like it was time."
"Certainly Deb Patterson is an outstanding basketball coach, she's a great human being and she's been a great leader for this program, and those are the things that makes it really hard."
Currie was noncommittal on the futures of current K-State assistants Ethridge, Kelly Moyland and Shalee Lehning in the program, either as assistants or possible head coaching candidates.
"There's not anybody in that building I wouldn't recommend around the country for a women's basketball position," he said. "It will really be up to the next coach as to who they want to retain or are unable to retain because the next coach is likely to bring at least a couple of support staff members with them.
"As far as the head coach, it's an open search and we don't have any preconceived candidates other than we want someone who operates with the highest level of integrity and knows how to recruit and knows how to coach."
Lehning is a household name in Kansas basketball circles.
She played at Sublette High School from 2002 to 2005 where she the led the Class 2A Lady Larks to consecutive 26-0 seasons and a pair of state championships. She was named the Kansas High School Basketball Player of the Year in 2005. She was a four-time honoree on The Telegram's All-Area basketball team. An all-around prep athlete, Lehning was an all-state volleyball player on a state runner-up team her senior year at Sublette and also won seven gold medals in track and field and still owns the state Class 2A javelin record.
Lehning, a 5-9 point guard, was then recruited by Patterson to play at Kansas State, where she moved into the starting lineup her freshman year. She was an integral part of the 2007 WNIT championship squad and she led the Lady 'Cats to the 2008 Big 12 championship team. She earned all-Big 12 honors both in 2008 and in 2009.
Following her senior year at KSU, Lehning was drafted No. 25 by the WNBA's Atlanta Dream. She played three seasons for the Dream and helped them reach the WNBA Finals in both 2010 and 2011. She suffered a serious shoulder injury in her rookie season, and then another career-ending ACL tear in 2011 that sidelined her the final half of the season. She announced her retirement from the Dream in early 2012.
Since 2010, she had had been a part-time assistant coach at K-State before Patterson hired her full-time in 2012 following her WNBA retirement. Lehning has been one of the lead recruiters for the Lady Wildcats and had been instrumental in luring some of Kansas' top prep stars to the program.
Telegram Sports Editor Brett Marshall contributed to this story.