To manage a potentially rocky transition, Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury turned to an experienced coach. Two weeks after firing MaChelle Joseph on the grounds that he could not ensure the well-being of team members with her as coach, Stansbury announced the hire of Nell Fortner on Tuesday.
Fortner, who turned 60 in March, has held two head-coaching jobs at the college level, one in the WNBA and a fourth as the U.S. national team coach. She has been out of coaching, though, since 2012, serving in that time as a women’s college basketball analyst for ESPN. In a statement, Stansbury described Fortner as “an outstanding leader of young women who has embodied our mission of developing the young people who will change the world.”
Fortner enters a situation that will require skills well beyond developing talent and implementing schemes. Joseph was fired after players raised concerns about mistreatment. An investigation into Joseph’s conduct found that players said she was emotionally, verbally and mentally abusive, charges that Joseph has denied. At least three players have entered the transfer portal.
“I've coached for 28 years, at every level, and Georgia Tech was the perfect fit for me to get back in the college game,” Fortner said in a statement. “Georgia Tech is one of those unique institutions that has both a premier academic reputation and a successful athletics program. My staff and I will be committed to helping each student-athlete have a positive and productive experience.”
It is perhaps not a coincidence that Fortner has previously taken on a head-coaching job amid turbulence. One that, in fact, also involved Joseph. In 1996, Purdue fired Lin Dunn and Joseph (then an assistant coach to Dunn) after a largely successful tenure after determining that “the long-term health of our women’s basketball program will be best served under new leadership.” Fortner inherited a depleted roster, but led the Boilermakers to a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship.
It was her only season at the school. In 1997, she was named the head coach of the U.S. national team, a group she led to Olympic gold in 2000. That led to a position as coach and general manager of the WNBA’s expansion Indiana Fever. She held the job through the 2003 season before resigning after the Fever missed the playoffs. She had a 42-56 record.
In 2004, she was hired at Auburn to succeed the legendary Joe Ciampi. Fortner coached the Tigers for eight seasons, winning the SEC regular-season title in 2009. She made the NCAA tournament twice in eight seasons and resigned at the end of her final season, her third with a losing record at the school.
In statements collected by the school, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, whose team won its third national championship on Sunday, called the hire “a grand slam.” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, who played for Fortner on the 2000 Olympic team, said that Fortner “brings positivity, energy and experience at the highest level that her student-athletes will enjoy and embrace.”
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