MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University vice president and director of athletics Wren Baker addressed the now-vacant WVU women’s basketball head coaching position Monday.
Dawn Plitzuwiet, who guided the Mountaineers to the NCAA Tournament in her first and only season with the program, departed Saturday after 11 months in Morgantown to take over the women’s basketball team at Minnesota.
Baker, still only with West Virginia for roughly three months now, is embarking on his first search for a head coach since taking over Mountaineer athletics. As he stated Monday, the search will be nationwide.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Baker’s time with the media.
The search has begun
Baker noted he and his in-house search committee met for between five and six hours Sunday to begin their preparations for the search and start combing over each Division I conference for potential candidates. That process will continue, he said, for the coming days while WVU establishes a list of candidates.
“After today, our sole focus will be identifying the next leader of our women’s basketball program,” Baker said.
Baker stated that numerous coaches have reached out to West Virginia in hopes of being considered for the job. He added that the university may also utilize a search firm for the hiring process, but has not contracted a firm at this point.
One viable option, it would seem, is TurnkeyZRG. That is the national search firm that assisted West Virginia University in hiring Baker for the then-vacant director of athletics job, and has been used multiple times throughout the Big 12 Conference, including in the finding of Brett Yormark to take over as league commissioner.
Baker said he is “fairly open” and wants to “cast a wide net” for this search. He did not set an exact timetable for the search. More details on that timetable below.
Two names to keep an eye on
Shortly after the news of Plitzuweit’s departure from West Virginia was announced, two people with deep ties to basketball in the Mountain State quickly came to the forefront of online rumors and speculation: Kim Stephens and Mike Carey.
Stephens was rumored as a candidate last year after Carey retired following 21 seasons in charge of the program. She ultimately elected to stay at Division II Glenville State, where she won a national championship in 2022 and is coaching in the Elite Eight Monday night.
“I’m familiar with her background,” said Baker, adding he would not speculate on any candidate at this time. “I coached, and I came from Division II. So I have a lot of respect for success that any coach has at any level, that wins at a high level.”
Stephens has a 190-23 record as head coach in seven seasons with the Pioneers.
There is also public speculation about Carey’s interest in returning to a post he held for more than two decades. Carey won a program-record 462 games and coached the Mountaineers to 11 of their 14 total NCAA Tournament.
Baker noted that he has not yet been in contact with Carey, but would like to speak with him soon. That conversation, though, would focus on the program, not the position.
“[I] probably will try and talk to him at some point in the new days,” Baker said. “Just about the job, and the landscape, and what’s changed in college athletics, and get his thoughts on the program. [I’m] probably not ready yet to talk about candidacy for the job, just because we’re so early in the process.”
Moving quickly to make a hire
An exact timetable for the search process has not been stated publically, though Baker would like the process to move as swiftly as possible.
“I don’t want to throw a timeline out there, but I don’t like uncertainty for the young women in that locker room,” said Baker. “The quicker we can deliver them a coach, the more it sets their mind at ease and the better chance it gives us to retain them.”
While those within WVU hope the search advances rapidly, Baker stressed the importance of being thorough throughout this process.
“It’s important to run an efficient process,” he added “I like to use a basketball term, ‘Be quick but don’t hurry.’ Because, you don’t want to rush it, but you’ve got to get it right.”
Baker also added he and his in-house search committee are still adding names to their list of possible candidates, though they hope to begin paring down that list later this week.
Baker stated he hopes this process is completed in less than one month.
Info on Plitzuweit’s decision to leave WVU
As described in a statement from Baker Saturday following the announcement from Minnesota, family played a large role in Plitzuweit’s decision to leave West Virginia. She and her family have deep connections to that area of the country.
While the announcement of her departure came quickly, it seems this was not something that happened overnight.
“Shortly before the conference tournament, I was made aware that Minnesota had interest in her,” said Baker, who expanded on some of the conversations he had with Plitzuweit and her agent.
According to Baker, Plitzuweit met with the team quickly Saturday morning. He and senior associate athletics director Natasha Oakes also met with the players afterward.
Plitzuweit went 19-12 in her lone season with West Virginia, becoming the first head coach in program history to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in a debut season on the bench.