Last week, the University of Miami announced that women’s basketball Head Coach Ferne Labati was going to be “relieved” of her coaching duties. The entire staff was let go, and the school is now in a search for a new basketball coach. My question is, why did this happen?
Labati has been here for 17 seasons and amassed an impressive 303-195 record, good for a .610 winning percentage. On top of that, she has had 12 winning seasons and led the Hurricanes to six NCAA Tournament appearances and three NIT appearances. She also led them to back-to-back Big East titles in the early 90s.
Her release was a surprise to many people, and I was definitely one of those who were shocked to hear the news. I will come right out and say what many people don’t want to hear: Labati should not have been fired.
I have had the privilege of dealing with Labati over my four years here, and I have to say she is not only a great person, but she really cared about this University and about winning. She cared about the girls on her basketball team and more importantly, she knew the game of basketball. She deserved better after 17 years of service than to be dismissed after one poor season.
Labati has taken the Hurricanes to the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons, and this year was her first losing season since 2000-2001. If you have any doubts that Labati can coach, look at her track record. She inherited a 14-13 team and in her first season went 21-8 and earned Miami, who was independent at the time, its first NCAA Tournament appearance.
In Miami’s first season of Big East play in 1991-92, Labati amassed a 30-2 record and took her team to the Sweet Sixteen. Labati was a good basketball coach and brought respect to a program that was always a non-factor.
Labati being fired is hard to stomach. This is the same school that had to think for over a month before firing Perry Clark, who had more than one losing season and was obviously overmatched. Even with Clark’s struggles, he almost kept his job, yet the University decides to get rid of Labati almost immediately after the women’s season ends.
This is the same place that has watched another women’s program, which I have previously written about, go down the tubes, yet that coach has kept her job despite getting worse almost every year and never surpassing the final season of the previous coach. Yet Labati was fired after one losing season in the last four years. Outside of football and baseball, there are very few University of Miami programs that have had winning seasons in 12 of the last 17 years.
Labati should not have been fired. It was a poor decision and obviously one that was not well thought out. It is people like Labati that this university needs to embrace and fight for. She took over a team that was nothing, that had never been to the NCAA Tournament, and took them there six different times in her career.
I am very interested to see whom the University hires to replace Labati. Usually, when someone gets fired, the school hires someone who has a better track record. So, I am going to expect Mr. Dee to hire someone who has a more proven history than Labati. That will be difficult, since Labati was one of only 39 coaches in Division I history to win 400 games in her career.
In conclusion, Labati’s firing was a disgrace, and anyone who follows sports at this university should be appalled and ticked off. I know I am.
Darren Grossman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.