Lisa Campos didn’t have to look far to find her new women’s basketball coach. Just down the hill and about a hundred miles to the south on the University of Arizona campus.
Campos, the new athletic director at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, has just made her second major hire in little more than two months on the job. In mid-April she announced the addition of Jack Murphy as the men’s basketball coach.
And now Sue Darling, an assistant coach at Arizona for the past four seasons, has been selected to replace Laurie Kelly, who left after the season ended to take over the women’s program at Gustavus Adolphus College, a Division III school in her native Minnesota.
Like Murphy, Darling is stepping onto the deck of a floundering ship in the basketball waters of the Big Sky Conference. Kelly posted a couple of 20-win seasons shortly after arriving nine years ago, but in recent years it has been a struggle to get over the .500 mark. Last season ended with a 9-20 mark that included just four conference wins. Finding a new job was probably a well-timed decision.
The men’s program was in disarray after long-time head coach Mike Adras resigned at the start of the season and topped off its 5-24 record with 16 straight losses.
Kelly was a head coach for five years before coming to NAU. Darling, too, comes with head-coaching experience from three years at the helm of the Air Force program from 1998 to 2001. She has also been an assistant at Northwestern, Arizona State (two tours there), and Dartmouth, and spent a year as an assistant coach for the Seattle Reign in the old American Basketball Association.
Darling joined the UofA staff in 2008, when head coach Niya Butts was hired to try to revive a lagging Wildcat program. She served as offensive coordinator, one of many jobs she performed in her role as head assistant, and helped the Cats to the No. 3 position in scoring offense in the Pac-12 during the 2010-11 season.
She also directed player personnel and team development at Arizona, and was instrumental in recruiting, scouting, marketing, and community relations.
The 27-year coaching veteran has deep roots in the Arizona sports community, going back a couple of decades to when she coached at Salpointe Catholic and Amphitheater high schools in Tucson, and then a year at Pima Community College.
Darling also attended school in Arizona, graduating from Canyon del Oro High School in the Tucson area, and then on to the University of Arizona where she was a captain on the women’s basketball team during the 1982 season.
Before signing on as an assistant at Arizona, she spent three years as a police officer in Boulder, Colo. So discipline shouldn’t be a problem in her new job.
However, discipline will likely be the least of her concerns. If she thought recruiting in Tucson was a challenge, wait until she gets to Flagstaff.
“There is certainly a lot of work to be done, but at the end of the day this is a gem of a program for many, many reasons,” she said at the yesterday’s announcement of her hire. “I am so excited about this opportunity.”
If memory serves correctly, Laurie Kelly said something similar when she got the job.
(Photo: University of Arizona Athletics)