LSU coach Kim Mulkey once turned down the South Carolina women's basketball job. Here's the story

Imagine. The lights drop inside a jam-packed, raucous Colonial Life Arena.

Spotlights swirl around the arena as players introductions commence and the standing crowd cheers after each name.

To close out the pregame routine, the PA announcer bellows, “and your head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks … Kim. Mulkey.”

Mulkey? Head coach at South Carolina? Threw you off there, right?

But what now seems like an outlandish scene was at one point in the past a faint possibility.

Here’s the backstory.

After the 1996-97 season, then-Gamecocks women’s basketball coach Nancy Wilson was burned out. Tuckered from coaching and the sport, as she once said.

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The school joined the Southeastern Conference halfway through her 13-year tenure - and the initial struggles in a more competitive league than the Metro, out of which she guided the Gamecocks to five NCAA Tournament appearances in eight tries - wore on her.

She resigned not long after the sixth consecutive season in the bottom half of the SEC, sending then-South Carolina athletics director Mike McGee and his staff on a search for the next women’s basketball coach.

Laurie Massa, who was South Carolina’s senior women’s administrator, was part of the search to find Wilson’s successor. According to Massa, McGee, who died in 2019, conducted coaching searches by splitting the initial pool of legitimate candidates among he and the other administrators. The group would circle back with notes, thoughts and ultimately decide which candidates would advance in the process.

Mulkey, 35 at that time, had just wrapped her 12th season on Leon Barmore’s staff at Louisiana Tech, her head coach and alma mater. The 1996-97 season was her first as his associate head coach.

“Kim stayed with me 16 years and played for me four years,” Barmore told The Daily Advertiser. “I gave her every job imaginable. And she gave me a product that was top of line every time. Nobody was going to be more successful than Kim.

Jan 30, 2023; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA;  LSU Lady Tigers head coach Kim Mulkey reacts to winning the game against the Tennessee Lady Vols to be become 21-0 at Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2023; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; LSU Lady Tigers head coach Kim Mulkey reacts to winning the game against the Tennessee Lady Vols to be become 21-0 at Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

“I don’t think there was a lot of (schools contacting her). Kim was going to be picky about who she talked to. She wouldn’t choose to run off and interview with just anybody.”

South Carolina reached out, and Mulkey answered. The two sides opened dialogue and soon, she flew out for an interview.

One of South Carolina’s associate athletic directors at the time, Chris Massaro, said he remembers an informal lunch that he and a small group of others had with Mulkey.

“She was delightful, and you could tell, an excellent coach,” said Massaro, now the AD at Middle Tennessee State. “She was great, but you could tell she had fire and passion like any great coach.

“I remember being very impressed.”

Massaro recalled having conversations with three other candidates for the vacancy.

While a few administrators under McGee said they could not recall whether Mulkey was offered the South Carolina women’s basketball job, Massa said it’s certainly possible that McGee did extend it to Mulkey.

Mulkey confirmed to The Daily Advertiser that she flew to South Carolina and was offered the job sometime following her interview but that she turned it down as she wasn’t interesting in taking the position.

Barmore recalls Mulkey being offered the job as well but that she turned it down.

“I don’t remember all the details but she would never interview anywhere without telling me. I’m pretty sure she was offered and turned it down,” Barmore said.

“I know that we (Louisiana Tech) were really good at the time. She was a Louisiana girl and it’d be like me going to South Carolina. She was better than she gave herself credit for. I knew she was ready. She’s proven herself, time and time at Baylor and now at LSU.”

Mulkey was in line to succeed him as the Lady Techsters coach when he decided to retire and her loyalty to her coach and alma mater likely trumped any offer South Carolina presented. Just a couple years later, Mulkey and Tech couldn’t agree on contract terms and she left in 2000 for her first head coaching job at Baylor.

She went on to win three national championships and 632 games with the Bears. Now in her second season at LSU, Mulkey has led the one of the best turnarounds in SEC women’s basketball history. She currently has the Tigers on a program-record 23-game win streak.

This Sunday, Mulkey will lead her No. 2 Tigers (23-0, 11-0) into a monster showdown at No. 1 South Carolina (23-0, 10-0), the place where she could’ve started her head coaching career.

Mulkey will be announced to the sell-out crowd inside Colonial Life Arena Sunday, but it’ll be as the coach of LSU.

And that’s the way she wants it.

Cory Diaz covers the LSU Tigers and Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns for The Daily Advertiser as part of the USA TODAY Network. Follow his Tigers and Cajuns coverage on Twitter: @ByCoryDiaz. Got questions regarding LSU/UL athletics? Send them to Cory Diaz at

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: LSU: Kim Mulkey turned down South Carolina women's basketball coach job