The Miami University women’s basketball program is heading in a new direction.
Athletic director David Sayler announced Thursday that Maria Fantanarosa, who compiled a 237-212 record in 15 seasons as the head coach at her alma mater, has been dismissed with one year remaining on her contract.
“You’re at a crossroads point with one year left,” Sayler said. “Do I extend her, because you kind of have to rather than go into a lame-duck year, or do I just make the change? The decision was just to make the change.”
Fantanarosa won three Mid-American Conference East Division championships and one conference tournament title with the RedHawks, who were 19-13 and lost at Illinois in the WNIT this season.
MU made four postseason appearances under Fantanarosa, going to the WNIT three times (2003-04 and 2011-12 were the first two trips) and the NCAA tournament once (2007-08).
“If you look out over the 15 years, I think we have a pretty good snapshot of what the program has been like,” Sayler said. “I just want more than that. I want more than one championship in 15 years. I certainly think this university sells itself in a great way, and we can really bring some kids in here that can get us to that level of being championship contenders on a much more consistent basis than we have done.”
Sayler delivered the news to the 1990 Miami graduate Wednesday. Contacted Thursday, Fantanarosa said she’s “not ready” to discuss her firing at this time.
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with the way Maria ran the program,” Sayler said. “Maria is a great coach and a great individual, and I really do genuinely thank her for her service here at Miami. These situations are difficult because they’re really not personal, even though they tend to come across as personal. It’s a business, and the business that we’re in is student-athletes’ success.
“This is just about taking it to another level. I want the student-athlete experience to be as good as it can be. I think when that’s happening and you’ve got a coach that really gets the Xs and Os part down, we can really be something special here.”
Sayler said he’s not sending a message to other Miami coaches and added, “This is simply a decision that was reached based on the facts in front of me with our women’s basketball program. If anyone extrapolates anything beyond that, that’s just not doing it.”
He said he’s already getting a considerable amount of phone calls and emails regarding the position. He will travel to New Orleans on Sunday for the Women’s Final Four.
What are Sayler’s criteria for selecting a new coach?
“I think it’s just a real focus on the student-athlete and the willingness to really push them and make the student-athlete experience strong,” he said. “Make it fun, but also have really strong Xs and Os to go out and win those games that I think we need to start winning more of, which are games against the upper-tier teams in our league. I want to become an upper-tier team in our league every year.”
Sayler isn’t making head coaching experience mandatory in his search. “I think there are a lot of talented assistants out there,” he said. “We’re going to cast a pretty wide net and see what we get. This is a great institution. I think it’s going to attract a great list of candidates.”
Asked if there is a timetable for naming a coach, Sayler replied, “My thought is that we can have somebody in place by the end of the month.”
He said current assistants Lisa Hayden, Colleen Day and Mark Ehlen are under contract through the end of May. “Certainly when the new coach is hired, there will be some discussions as to whether those coaches get to have a contract next year or not,” Sayler said.
Maria Fantanarosa’s year-by-year record as Miami University’s head women’s basketball coach:
1998-99 — 11-15
1999-00 — 16-12
2000-01 — 18-11
2001-02 — 19-11
2002-03 — 17-12
2003-04 — 22-9
2004-05 — 15-14
2005-06 — 8-20
2006-07 — 12-18
2007-08 — 23-11
2008-09 — 16-15
2009-10 — 9-22
2010-11 — 11-19
2011-12 — 21-10
2012-13 — 19-13
TOTAL — 237-212