With the backing of legends, Mitchell lands UCSB job

With a recommendation from a coaching legend on the East Coast and the approval of another in Santa Barbara, UCSB named Carlene Mitchell as its new women’s basketball coach on Thursday.

Mitchell comes from Rutgers, where she worked 10 years as an assistant and associate head coach with C. Vivian Stringer, a basketball Hall of Famer.


Before stepping to the podium to speak to the media, UCSB staff and supporters, Mitchell went into the seating area and shook hands with UCSB coaching legend Mark French, the man who put Gaucho women’s basketball on the map.

It was a sign of respect that immediately endeared her to the Gaucho supporters.

“I did that because I worked for a Hall of Famer for 10 years, and at the end of the day there’s aways someone before you that built a program, a program being more than just basketball,” she said. “I had the honor during this process to spend time with coach French and I understand why you guys want him to come out of retirement.

“Not only is he a brilliant man with X’s and O’s, he established a program that you guys were all proud of. What I want to do is bring that back. I want you guys to be proud of the product I put on the floor

“For 10 years I have waited for this opportunity. It had to be the right situation, the right fit.”

After consulting with French during the hiring process, Chancellor Henry Yang and Director of Athletics Mark Massari felt Mitchell was the right fit for UCSB.

“What women’s basketball does for the campus is it competes at the highest level,” Massari said. “It has and it will again because this campus does that.

“At the heart of it is Dilling and Chancellor Yang,” he continued. “Carlene, you think you know how to cut down nets, those two know how to cut down nets. They’ve done it since the first day they got here.”

Chancellor Yang said he was impressed with what Mitchell accomplished in her 10 years at Rutgers.

“Coach Mitchell turned out to be our unanimous No. 1 choice,” he said. “Why? Because she has a career that is sharply and steadly rising on a trajectory of success. Her records can prove that.”

He noted the huge turnaround from a 9-20 season in her first year at Rutgers in 2002 to a 21-8 season that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2003. The Scarlet Knights have been to the tournament every year since, reaching the Final Four in 2007, Elite 8 in 2008 and Sweet 16 in 2009.

Yang then took a trip down memory lane, which drew laughs. “Coach French and I, we really enjoyed that Sweet 16.”

Yang asked coach French about the significance of being an  associate head coach, and he was impressed with the response.

“Coach French told me it’s very rare a head basketball coach would name an assistant coach to be associate coach unless you’re exceptional,” the chancellor said.

“The fact that Carlene was my associate head coach speaks volumes,” coach Stringer told the New Jersey Star-Ledger. “She’s enthusiastic, has a great mind for the game of basketball and has proven to be an amazing recruiter. She has an uncanny ability to really connect with the young women, which is so important to being a great coach.

“I’ve been a head coach for a long time and watched so many of my former assistants move on to become head coaches but it never gets any easier to see them leave. It was only a matter of time that someone of her caliber, who has been as successful as she has, takes that next step in their career and I know without a doubt she will rise to the occasion. Carlene has been waiting for this opportunity and I couldn’t be more proud and happy for her. She truly deserves it and we wish her well.”

French said he was pleased with the university’s decision to hire Mitchell to replace Lindsay Gottlieb, who left after three seasons to take the head job at Cal.

“I know she will continue to value the growth of our outstanding women, on and off the court, while bringing a strong dose of Rutgers and Big East toughness to the Gauchos,” said French.

Before joining Rutgers, Mitchell spent the 2000-01 season as the top assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Oklahoma State University.  She was responsible for both preseason and off-season conditioning, coaching the guards during practices, developing a defensive game plan for each of Oklahoma State’s opponents and working with the program’s summer camps.

Mitchell coached for two seasons at Western Illinois University, where she helped the Westerwinds make a remarkable turnaround from a 7-19 record to an 18-11 mark the following season.

She started her coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1997.

Mitchell was the starting point guard as a senior at Kansas State University during the 1995-96 season. She received a bachelor’s degree in social science from the school in 1996.

Mitchell also attended Allen County (Kan.) and Trinity Valley (Texas) Community Colleges. She helped lead Trinity to the first of their five unprecedented NJCAA National Championships in 1994. Named All-Conference and selected to the NJCAA All-Tournament Team, Mitchell still holds the single season assist record (337) and assists in a game (17) mark in the Lady Cardinals record book. She joined the school’s Cardinal Hall of Fame this past October, as a member of the Class of 2010.