Charli Turner Thorne to take time off from ASU hoops

Charli Turner Thorne has decided she doesn’t want to be on the sidelines of the ASU women’s basketball program next season.  She has asked for, and received, a leave of absence that will begin on July 1 and run for nine months.

Maybe she decided she doesn’t like the ‘new look’ uniforms that are part of the school’s re-branding efforts.  Naw, that would be too simple an explanation.

She has indicated, instead, that she just wants “an opportunity to re-center myself, have more family time, and improve as a coach.”  It will be an unpaid, voluntary leave of absence.

In other words, after 15 years, it’s probably time for a break.

Too many college coaches make the mistake of trying to coach through this phase of their career, refusing to re-charge the batteries, and then wind up hitting the wall when the inevitable burnout occurs.

Turner Thorne is probably smart in that respect.  She knows it’s time to step back and smell the coffee – at least for awhile.  And spend some time with husband, Will, and her three young sons.

She doesn’t have to worry about her job being there when she returns for the 2012-13 season.  The 40-something Energizer bunny is one of the winningest coaches in ASU sports and is ranked third in Pac-10 history with 289 wins.  She set a school-record 31 wins in 2006-07 and is one of just three Pac-10 coaches in the last quarter-century to record five or more consecutive 20-win seasons.

And while she’s gone, the program shouldn’t skip a beat.

Joe Anders, who will take over as interim head coach for the 2011-12 season, has been on the bench as Turner Thorne’s assistant for the past decade.  And Meg Sanders, the other assistant coach, has been with Turner Thorne since their days together in Flagstaff when Turner Thorne was the head coach at Northern Arizona and Sanders was her assistant.  She just completed her eighth season at ASU.

Anders has been coaching for more than 25 years and was the head coach for the men’s program at Sacramento State for six years.  Sanders also has experience as a head coach, leading the Northern Arizona program for seven seasons before rejoining Turner Thorne at ASU.

The frustration of the past two seasons could also have had something to do with the timing of the decision to step away for awhile.

Last season was another 20-win campaign, but it didn’t end well.  The Sun Devils lost to California in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 Tournament and then got beat by Temple in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.  The 63-45 drubbing by the Owls was Temple’s largest margin of victory ever in NCAA Tournament play.

But it was especially difficult on the coach, who had to sit on the bench and watch the wheels come off an otherwise decent offense.  The Devils couldn’t hit the ocean with a beach ball.

And Turner Thorne was the first to admit it was a difficult pill to swallow.  “The gravity of this game, combined with us just stinking it up on offense, led to a lot of frustration,” she said ofter the first-round loss.

The disappointing end to this past season also came on the heels of a 18-14 season the year before, when the Devils missed out on making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years.  And, to make matters worse, they accepted a bid to the WNIT and were eliminated in the second round of that second-tier tourney.

Other commitments, outside of those required to keep her ASU program on the national map, likely also contributed to that sense of burn-out.  Two summers ago, she served as the head coach of the USA Women’s World University Games Team, which captured a gold medal, and before that she was an assistant coach in 2007 on USA Basketball’s U21 World Championship Team.

She also runs a basketball camp for young, aspiring players each summer.

Fortunately for her, the administration at ASU understood her need for a little time off.

ASU V.P. of Athletics Lisa Love said the school fully supports the coach’s voluntary leave.  As Love explained,  “When she approached us about the opportunity to take some time for some personal and professional development, it also showed her ability to understand what she felt would be best not only for her family, but for Sun Devil Athletics over the next season and beyond.”

That’s easy to say right now.  Let’s re-visit that thought about midway through next season.