St. Mary’s HS hires girls’ basketball coach…no, wait

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                </div>The day before the Fourth of July holiday, St. Mary’s High School had a new head coach for its defending state- champion girls’ basketball program. The day after the Fourth […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The day before the Fourth of July holiday, St. Mary’s High School had a new head coach for its defending state- champion girls’ basketball program.

The day after the Fourth of July holiday, the downtown Phoenix school posted a new job opening on the AIA website – for a varisty girls head basketball coach.

Somewhere between the two dates, Coco Miller had a very brief tenure as the St. Mary’s head coach.

The East Valley Tribune posted a story Wednesday on its website after following a tweet to a press release on the school’s Facebook page announcing Miller’s hire.  Not long after the story appeared, St. Mary’s issued another press release, this time to say that Miller had decided not to take the job after all, citing what she called “unforeseen issues.”

In what has to be one of the shortest coaching tenures of all time, perhaps the most dominant high school girls basketball programs in Arizona history finds itself without a coach willing to take on what is likely to be a lose-lose proposition next season.

This might have been a non-story, something that passed in the night with little notice.  But the St. Mary’s program isn’t just any girls basketball program.

Curtis Ekmark resigned the head-coaching position in early June to run a Nike-sponsored club program. But during his six years at St. Mary’s, he turned the program into a powerhouse at the state level and earned national acclaim as well.  The Knights finished the 2011-12 season as the No. 1 team in the nation after going undefeated through 30 games, and have won the last three big-school state titles.

But he accomplished it with a roster loaded with Division-I prospects that had played together for years in the club system, several from his own club team – which brought him considerable criticism.  After the Knights easily rolled to their third title last season, five players from that squad graduated to Division I programs.

The perfect storm that had blown through St. Mary’s was over.

The only player of that caliber left for next season is Courtney Ekmark, the coach’s daughter and leading scorer who has committed to play at national power UConn.  She has one year of high school eligibility remaining, but without her father on the bench, there is speculation she could leave the program, maybe even enroll early at Connecticut.

So perhaps Miller, who was an outstanding college player herself and spent 12 seasons in the WNBA, had a last-minute revelation that she should have had from the outset.  This isn’t the same program that lost just three games over the last three years, when the studs were still on the floor.  Even if the coach’s kid sticks around for another season, it won’t be the same; you can’t replace the college-scholarship level of talent that filled out the rest of the starting line-up that easily.

Miller was the head girls’ coach last year at Phoenix Country Day, a Division IV school where she posted an 18-14 overall mark and went 10-7 in league play.  The level of talent would probably be a step up at St. Mary’s, but the problem is that so much more will be expected.  Anything less than another state title contender will be considered a let-down.  And who gets the blame?  Yep, the coach.

It’s one of those unintended consequences that come with building a winning program.  At some point, there’s going to be a fall-off.

Maybe Miller realized that time may have arrived at St. Mary’s.

Finding a quality coach willing to take on that challenge may present a big challenge in itself.