IN HER OWN WORDS:
March 17, 2021
THE PRIVILEGE OF A LIFETIME
“Being the head coach at the University of Oklahoma has been the privilege of my lifetime.
“In April of 1996, I accepted this, my dream job. As a native Oklahoman, I was pretty sure I had died and gone to Heaven. Though the task would not be for the faint of heart, I just wanted to build a program that this great state and this storied institution could be proud of. Twenty-five years later, I still cannot believe the ride Oklahoma Women’s Basketball has taken me on.
“I arrive here today at the ending of a chapter and the beginning of another, engulfed in gratitude. The thick, goopy kind that comes from the middle of your bones. I am grateful to my family for letting me “pursue my life’s passionate obsession” (thank you Wright Thompson), for generously allowing me to take up too much room and for doubling the wins and dividing the losses. Without them, achievement of any kind would fall pretty flat.
“I am grateful to my players for letting me coach them. That’s a gift I’ve never taken lightly and a joy unlike any other I have ever known. I want them to know that they’ve left pieces of themselves in me and I am better for it.
“I am grateful to my staff for the sacrifices they made through the years. The loved they toiled with breathed a special life into our program. They readied the soil so that our teams could grow. And they never get enough credit for all the good they do.
“I am grateful to our leadership—to the late Donnie Duncan and his partner in big dreams, Marita Hynes, for having the courage to hire a high school coach with audacious plans; to Steve Owens for riding the early waves with Marita and I; and to the incomparable Joe Castiglione for shepherding our growth, for challenging our progress and for being there no matter what. To former President David Boren and current President Joe Harroz, I thank you for cultivating an institution that does what it’s supposed to do—prepare its students for an important and meaningful life.
“I am grateful to our competitors for stretching us, our fans for lifting us and our media for covering us. Our game has grown exponentially because of the commitment of you all.
“Through much prayer and the gifts of a year that provided pockets of stillness most years never produce, I have amazing clarity. Basketball was my first and deepest love and coaching has been this wonderfully amazing life that I can’t believe they pay me for. But there have always been other things I want to do. I’m ready to explore those things and I’m ready to run toward unfettered days with my brand-new beautiful granddaughter. Twenty-five years just feels right in my bones and in my soul.
“It’s never easy to leave no matter how great a thing you are running to, because something is always left behind. It’s hard to leave these players. This seasoned bunch of gritty competitors who built their wings in the fiercest of winds clawed their way to the sacredness of team. This season will always be one tattooed on my heart. But that’s the trick about sports and the magnificent gift of team — it gets in you and it never goes away. Lucky, lucky, lucky me.”
500 wins, 3 Final Fours, 9 Sweet 16s and 10 conference championships.
Owner of the most wins in OU women’s basketball history and a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Coale was a four-time Big 12 Coach of the Year and directed the Sooners to 10 Big 12 championships (six regular season, four tournament) and 20 postseason appearances, including 19 consecutive NCAA Tournaments. She finished her collegiate career with a 513-294 (.636) overall record and a 253-167 (.601) mark in Big 12 play.
Her teams registered 31 NCAA Tournament wins, good for 15th most among Division I women’s basketball coaches. Her three Final Four appearances are tied for eighth most in history.
Coale coached OU players to four first-team All-America honors and six Big 12 Player of the Year accolades. Thirty-one Sooners earned a total of 65 all-conference honors under her direction. She also produced 14 WNBA Draft selections, including six first-round picks. Seventeen of her pupils played professionally overseas (in 27 countries on six continents).
Appointed by the NCAA to the USA Basketball Competition Committee in 2005, Coale herself experienced international success. In 2013, she led USA Basketball to a gold medal in the World University Games in Kazan, Russia, and as an assistant coach in 2001 helped USA’s Women’s Junior World Championship Team to a bronze medal in Brno, Czech Republic.
The architect of Oklahoma’s women’s basketball renaissance, Coale was responsible for Lloyd Noble Center’s skyrocketing attendance in the 2000s. The 50 largest home OU women’s hoops crowds all came during Coale’s tenure, including the record 12,205 that attended the Sooners’ 2008 win over Oklahoma State. OU first surpassed the 10,000-spectator mark on Dec. 29, 1999, against top-ranked Connecticut (10,713 fans), and went on to rank third nationally in 2007-08 by averaging 10,253 fans per home contest. In 2008-09 alone, Coale’s team drew more than 10,000 fans at six different home games.
WHAT HER BOSSES SAY ABOUT SHERRI COALE
OU President Joseph Harroz Jr.
“Sherri is an iconic coach who has made an indelible impact on the national landscape of women’s basketball. In the 25 years she has served as our head coach, she has influenced the lives of so many student-athletes and become an essential part of the fabric of our community. Sherri personifies the purpose of our university — “To change lives.” We look forward to the next chapter of her story and are so proud of her as a leader of the OU community.”
OU Vice President and Athletics Director Joe Castiglione
“Sherri Coale has encouraged everyone from players to peers to ‘leave your story better than you found it.’ She walked her talk. Her transformational impact on women’s basketball at OU which, in turn, inspired generations of young girls throughout our state to play the sport is nearly impossible to measure. There are certainly milestones, from halls of fame inductions to Final Fours to conference titles to All-Americans and beyond, but it was the elevation of the program’s profile to the nation’s elite that will be best remembered.
“Across Oklahoma and the nation, the Sooner women’s basketball program became a wildly popular and highly respected brand. Truly, Sherri set the stage for generations to come. But to focus only on the many on-the-court successes is to miss her impact on the lives of so many student-athletes. She always put her player’s best interests first. Time and again, we saw the young women in our program develop in every facet of life. Her teams were super successful in the classroom and always engaged in serving the community.
“Sherri came to us as a coach and teacher and remained in both roles throughout her career. There are people who come into our lives and challenge us to think bigger, more deeply and more thoroughly. Many of us have a better story because Sherri was part of it. She is only closing the chapter on this portion of her story, and we look forward to what is next for her. What she leaves behind at the University of Oklahoma is a classic for the ages.”
COURTESY OKLAHOMA ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS