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Publish Date: 4/28/2005

Newly hired Colorado coach Kathy McConnell-Miller smiles at a news conference after being introduced by athletic director Mike Bohn on Wednesday.AP/Ed Andrieski

CU coach up for challenge

BOULDER — A lot of things would have been easier than passing the background check University of Colorado officials issued to prospective coaches.

Receiving Secret Service clearance to hang out with the President. Emerging clean as a whistle from an IRS audit of your income taxes. Surviving secondary screening on the airport security line would have even been easier.

After emerging red-faced from their last attempt to hire a women’s basketball coach, officials rightly approached the hiring process with a heightened degree of scrutiny.

Tulsa coach Kathy McConnell-Miller weathered the barrage. She emerged with high scores on all her tests. Colorado introduced her as its new coach Wednesday morning — and she did not run away from the press conference. She replaces Ceal Barry, who retired after 22 years at the school.

Just how deep did Colorado officials dig?

“We really felt like we needed to really do as much homework as we could, so we probably know more about coach, her staff and her program than maybe her husband does,” Colorado athletics director Mike Bohn said.

He was kidding. Maybe.

Such vigilance was necessary because the university’s original hire, Wisconsin-Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth, spurned Colorado only hours before officials were set to introduce him as the next head coach two weeks ago.

McConnell-Miller never wavered. When university officials began recruiting her after Borseth’s flip-flop, she showed immediate interest. Beating Big 12 powers while coaching at small-school Tusla convinced her she was ready for the challenge.

“I’m ready,” McConnell-Miller said, while addressing a crowd at the Dal Ward Center that included Barry. “I’m ready for this job. I’m ready for the opportunity to continue what Ceal Barry — the legend in our game — has done.”

If McConnell-Miller, who received a five-year contract, is to continue Barry’s traditions in Boulder, she will do it while encountering some other legends of women’s basketball.

The Big 12 is jam-packed with some of the biggest names in college coaching. Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp and Texas coach Jody Conradt each have more than 500 career victories. Don’t forget Baylor, which won a national championship earlier this month with rising star Kim Mulkey-Robertson.

“I have played in the ACC, coached in the Big East and Big Ten, but I can tell you there’s something pretty unbelievable in the Big 12,” McConnell-Miller said. “I am well aware of what I’m up against.”

Being a newcomer in the conference sounds like a scary proposition. But McConnell-Miller coached Tulsa to wins over Oklahoma and Louisiana Tech last season. At Tulsa, she became comfortable recruiting on the Oklahoma and Texas landscapes — areas considered part of the Big 12 turf.

She will bring Tulsa recruiting coordinator Bethann Ord, along with Golden Hurricanes assistant Mike Neighbors, with her to Boulder. Two other assistant coaching spots remain vacant.

McConnell-Miller’s experience on that recruiting turf is one of the things that piqued Bohn’s interest. It was hardly, however, the only factor in her hiring.

“We’re fortunate to have what I believe is the brightest young, up-and-coming coach in America,” he said. “We were looking for a coach with intensity to match what our fan base has, character, integrity, work ethic.

“Every single time we evaluated those characteristics, Kathy, and what her program stands for, always were in the spotlight.”

In six years at Tulsa, McConnell-Miller turned a perennial loser into a program that averaged 15 wins per season during her tenure. As an assistant coach at Rutgers, she recruited back-to-back classes ranked in the top 15.

At Colorado, she inherits a program accustomed to success, albeit one experiencing a lull. Although Barry reached six Sweet Sixteens and three Elite Eights during her career, the Buffs slipped to the basement of the conference last year.

Inexperience might have been the team’s most glaring shortcoming. Freshmen like 6-foot-4 center Kara Richards and 6-foot-3 forward Jackie McFarland, along with rookie point guard Yari Escalera, showed flashes of dominance.

“The cupboard is not bare here,” Barry said.

From the short meeting she had with the team’s current players, however, McConnell-Miller liked the upbeat attitude of the team.

This late in the search for a coach, school officials are happy to reciprocate those feelings.

“I think we got the right coach at the right time,” said Barry, who is remaining in the department as an assistant athletics director. “It worked out exactly the way it should have worked out. …

“I told her, ‘Look, I wasn’t here five years. I was here 22. If I didn’t like it here, I’d have been gone a long time ago. She will like it here. I see her being here 22-plus years.”

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