Suddenly, Weller era ends

UM women's coach steps down 1 win short of 500 in 27 seasons

March 06, 2002|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Citing a desire to rest from the toil and pressures of coaching, Maryland women's basketball coach Chris Weller has stepped down after her 27th season with the Terrapins.

Weller announced her decision at a hastily called news conference yesterday in the Tyser Tower of Byrd Stadium. Weller said she had no immediate plans - except to take some time off to improve her health.

"I need a break," said Weller, who was flanked by athletic director Debbie Yow and senior associate athletic director Kathy Worthington. "I need to get in shape. I need to get healthy and then decide what to do."

Weller, who guided Maryland to eight Atlantic Coast Conference championships and three Final Four berths, finished one win shy of her 500th victory.

But Weller said she never intended to remain in coaching just to achieve a milestone.

"I didn't coach for 500 wins," she said. "That would've been an unfair reason for me to stay."

Weller leaves an indelible impression on the Terrapins program. Her 499-286 record ranks her among the top 25 women's coaches in all-time wins.

Weller's Maryland teams have reached the NCAA or AIAW national tournament 18 times. Her squads have made 10 Sweet 16 and eight Elite Eight appearances.

The Terrapins have been ranked in the top 10 nationally 11 times, including a No. 1 ranking for much of the 1991-92 season. That season Weller also garnered several national coaching awards, including Naismith National Coach of the Year.

"She's a pioneer, a leader," said Yow, who - along with Weller - was one of just nine full-time women's basketball coaches on the collegiate level in 1976. "Her legacy will never be forgotten. It can never be changed. It can never be altered. ... I think it's special."

Weller said she contemplated retiring at the end of last season, but felt a duty to complete this season with this year's five-member senior class.

The idea resurfaced several weeks ago when Weller began calling members of the 1978 squad - which captured the inaugural ACC tournament - to return to Greensboro, N.C., to commemorate the tournament's 25-year existence.

"It starts to take you back," Weller said of the memories she shared with her former players during their telephone conversations. "I became nostalgic and thought of the big picture."

The thought of retirement snowballed during Sunday's festivities surrounding the final college basketball game at Cole Field House. Next season, the men's and women's teams will move to the 17,100-seat Comcast Center.

"It's a good time for Maryland because they need to have somebody interested in starting a new era at the Comcast Center," Weller said. "I want us to have great experiences in the Comcast Center, and I want to see the Comcast Center filled for women's basketball."

Weller told her players of her intentions yesterday at about 2 p.m. in the team locker room. Junior guard Terri Daniels said she received a text message on her cellular phone informing her of the meeting.

"You just didn't expect that out of her," said Daniels, an Ellicott City native who played at St. Mary's. "We might've thought of it, but we didn't talk about it. Everybody was sitting there in a stunned mood. It was hard for her to say goodbye to us, and it was hard for us to say goodbye to her."

Weller joked that she knew she had made the right decision when she took her coaching staff to a favorite restaurant for lunch yesterday and discovered that it had closed.

"It was an omen," she said with a laugh.

A 1966 Maryland graduate who played basketball for four years there, Weller taught and coached at Kennedy High School in Silver Spring for seven years.

She returned to Maryland as an assistant coach in 1973 and was promoted to head coach two years later. That season was highlighted by a trip to the EAIAW regionals and the first of 10 20-victory years for Weller and the Terps.

This season, Maryland received a preseason ranking of No. 23 from the Associated Press and was expected to build on last year's 17-12 record and national tournament appearance. But the Terps struggled with inconsistency, finishing 13-17 after getting bounced from the ACC tournament quarterfinals by North Carolina on Saturday.

Nonetheless, Weller, who is widely known for her stone-faced determination, became emotional at one point during the news conference and admitted that it was hard to tell her team of her decision without crying.

"All I have to do is look at them, and I can't talk," Weller said. "This decision had nothing to do with the fact that we didn't have as competitive a season as we would've liked."

Worthington heads a selection committee to search for Weller's successor.

"We're open right now to the best person who can fill that role," she said.

Yow said the university hoped that Weller would consider assuming a fund-raising or administrative position within the athletics department.

Weller said she hasn't made up her mind what to do next, but said she would not coach again.

"I haven't taken more than a week off in 27 years," Weller said. "Right now, I feel like it's time for me to step back."

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