McGraw named ACC Coach of the Year

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

Earlier this season, Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw had former Irish All-American point guard Skylar Diggins playing defense against the player who would be replacing her, freshman Lindsay Allen.

It wasn’t a good day for Allen.

McGraw would stop the scrimmage, call Allen aside, and teach her the finer art of bringing the ball up the court against a fierce opponent.

Knowing that a team with four returning starters would depend heavily on a freshman point guard, McGraw put in a tremendous coaching effort to make sure Allen was battle-tested and able to handle the challenges of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Those bad days have turned into good days.

Notre Dame went 29-0 in the regular season, and 16-0 in the ACC, with Allen making huge contributions.

McGraw’s masterful effort to guide the Irish through their first season in the power-packed ACC with a perfect record was recognized on Wednesday, when she was named ACC Coach of the Year.

McGraw was also named Coach of the Year last season in the Big East after leading the Irish to a 16-0 mark.

It’s her sixth conference Coach of the Year Award in all.

She also has been the Coach of the Year in the Big East (2001), the East Coast Conference (1983, when she coached at Lehigh University), the North Star Conference (1988), and the Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League (1991).

“One of the great strengths that she has is the ability to find the right players for not just the program, but for the University of Notre Dame,” said Irish assistant coach Beth Cunningham, who as a player at Notre Dame helped McGraw and the Irish reach the Final Four in 1997. “In doing that, student-athletes come into our program and thrive. I think she’s found a way to get the most out of our team, year-in, and year-out.

“The most amazing thing is just how consistent the program has been. You look at the last couple of years, due to graduation, I think everyone thought we were losing a lot, with (Devereaux Peters) and (Natalie Novosel) and those guys graduating, and then Skylar (Diggins) graduating last year, and we just keep coming back. As they say, reload, instead of rebuild. She’s found a way to see things within each individual to help them excel.”

McGraw called the award a team honor.

“It’s a credit to our players and amazing coaching staff — (associate head coach) Carol Owens, (associate coach) Beth Cunningham and (assistant coach/recruiting coordinator) Niele Ivey — for all the hard work they have put in so far this season,” McGraw said. “We do this together as a team and I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve achieved together to this point.”

Notre Dame completed the regular season unbeaten for the first time in the program’s 37-year history. The Irish beat nine ranked opponents (eight by double digits), and knocked off five Top 10 opponents (four on the road).

In 27 seasons at Notre Dame, McGraw is 655-217 (.751 winning percentage). She is 743-258 (.742) in 32 seasons overall.

Notre Dame is a certain pick for a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. The Irish have been to the Final Four five times under McGraw, including the last three seasons in a row.

Cunningham said that McGraw always has the Irish peaking at the right time.

McGraw’s mix of competitiveness and intelligence has fueled her Hall of Fame status.

“You’re not going to find anybody more competitive than coach McGraw,” Cunningham said. “She wants to win anything she does. At the same time, she’s so smart, she’s very intelligent, and she’s got a great balance between the two.

“She loves the X’s and O’s and the challenges of getting ready for games, night-in and night-out. She loves the practices, and trying to figure out ways to put the team in a position to win every night.

“I think it’s a great balance that she has of constantly wanting to get better, constantly wanting to win anything she does, but she can be very analytical and very intelligent in figuring out ways to win. When you put those two qualities together, her intelligence and her competitiveness, that’s why she’s the best.”

Notre Dame opens its inaugural experience in the ACC Tournament on Friday at 2 p.m. in Greensboro, N.C.

The Irish play the winner of Thursday’s 8-9 game between Miami and Florida State.

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Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw communicates with players during her team's game against Virginia Tech on Jan. 30. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)