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Muffet McGraw steps down as women’s basketball coach at Notre Dame
2:36 PM ET
  • Mechelle VoepelESPN.com

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      Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw is retiring as women’s basketball coach at Notre Dame after 33 years, she announced Wednesday.

“It has been my great honor to represent the University of Notre Dame these past 33 years, but the time has come for me to step down as your head basketball coach,” McGraw said in a statement.

“… I am grateful to have worked with the best assistant coaches in the business, and I have been blessed to coach so many phenomenal women. To the best fans in the country, it was my honor and privilege to play for you.”

McGraw, 64, will be replaced by Niele Ivey, who spent 17 seasons at Notre Dame as a player and an assistant coach before serving as an assistant coach for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies this past season.

McGraw said in a Zoom teleconference call that since the 2018 championship season, she had been approaching her career from a “let’s take one more year” perspective. In 2019, the Irish were national runner-up. However, after losing five players to the WNBA draft, Notre Dame had a 13-18 record in 2019-20.

“We have a great recruiting class coming in,” McGraw said. “I think the program is right back where it should be and poised to make another run to the Final Four. So I feel like I’m leaving the program in a good place. And also a chance for me to do something else.”

McGraw went 848-252 at Notre Dame and led the school to national championships in 2001 and 2018. The Fighting Irish won 67 NCAA tournament games and have made 24 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances under McGraw.

While McGraw is stepping away from the court, she said she would remain active within the university and local communities.

“This is a retirement from coaching,” McGraw said. “I am excited about the opportunity to continue to promote women’s equality and to speak on behalf of all women across the country. And to use my platform in any way I can. I’d like to get more involved in community work. I find I’ve turned into a real activist, and I’m really enjoying that. I hope a lot of things are in store, and definitely a different page than I’ve been on.”

McGraw said forced time away from her normal coaching routine because of the coronavirus pandemic also gave her time to reflect.

“Tomorrow is promised to no one,” McGraw said. “What is your life going to look like down the road? We wanted to continue to enjoy it. I’m excited about knowing that I can handle not having basketball in my life.”

McGraw was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017 — the 13th female coach to achieve that honor. She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. Her 936 career wins ranks sixth all time among Division I coaches.

She is one of just five NCAA Division I men’s and women’s basketball coaches with at least 930 wins, nine Final Fours and multiple titles. The others are Pat Summitt, Tara VanDerveer, Geno Auriemma and Duke men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Under McGraw, Notre Dame had one of the great rivalries in college sports against UConn. The teams met 51 times, with eight of those in the NCAA tournament. The Huskies lead the series 38-13 and won the two national championship games in which they played (2013 and 2015). But Notre Dame beat UConn five times in the national semifinals, including both years the Irish won the NCAA title.

The rivalry between her and Auriemma got heated a few times, but McGraw said it’ll be one of the things she’ll miss most.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said he wants McGraw to continue to be heavily involved with the university.

“This is a great teacher, and we want to create platforms for her to teach,” Swarbrick said. “We have some specific ideas about programs which are being developed at the university. We want her to help our coaches. And we’d like to have her continue to represent the university publicly.”

She sent 20 players to the WNBA during her coaching career, including Skylar Diggins-Smith, Kayle McBride, Arike Ogunbowale and Ruth Riley.

“There’s something about her that makes you want to move a mountain for her. I believe it’s how much she cares about her players,” Diggins-Smith said.

Before coming to Notre Dame, McGraw got her start as an assistant at her alma mater Saint Joseph’s before taking over as head coach at Lehigh in 1982 until she left for the Irish after the 1987 season.

Ivey has made nine Final Four appearances with Notre Dame — two as a player and seven as an assistant coach.

“I am so honored to be able to follow in the legacy that Coach McGraw built here at Notre Dame,” Ivey said in a statement. “My love and appreciation for Coach McGraw is beyond anything I can express. She’s more than a mentor, more than a friend, she’s one of the most influential people in my life.

“I am full of gratitude for Coach McGraw and what she has done for me. She was the first to give me an opportunity to play for Notre Dame and coach here as well. I will forever be grateful for her love and support. I would also like to thank Jack Swarbrick and [Notre Dame president] Father [John] Jenkins for having the faith to move this program forward with me. I can never thank you enough for this incredible opportunity.”

As far as her favorite memory, McGraw said it was probably the 2018 NCAA title, which the Irish won in a season in which they’d dealt with four ACL injuries. They defeated UConn in overtime in the semifinals on Ogunbowale’s game-winning shot. Then Ogunbowale hit another game-winner in the final against Mississippi State.

Notre Dame nearly repeated in 2019, but fell 82-81 to Baylor. Notre Dame was national runner-up five times.

“You learn so much more through adversity,” McGraw said. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is never be too high or too low. And you have to appreciate the moment. I really had a hard time with that. We’d win a game, and I’d immediately be focused on the next one. I’d continually talk to the team about, ‘We’ve got to celebrate the victories.’ And I wasn’t as good at doing that. But I’m happy about where I’ve left things.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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