McGraw steps down after Hall of Fame career

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SOUTH BEND, Indiana -- “If we searched for an entire year. I don’t think we would find anyone better suited for our program.”

On May 18, 1987, the late former Notre Dame Director of Athletics Gene Corrigan uttered those words when he announced the hiring of Muffet McGraw as the third head coach of the Fighting Irish women’s basketball program.

Now, 33 seasons, two national championships and a hall of fame career later, Karen & Kevin Keyes Family Head Coach Muffet McGraw will step down from her post. McGraw will officially announce her retirement from coaching on Wednesday, April 22 at 4:30 p.m. ET as part of a virtual press conference.

“It has been my great honor to represent the University of Notre Dame these past 33 years, but the time has come for me to step down as your head basketball coach,” McGraw stated. “I want to thank Monk Malloy and Father Jenkins for giving me the opportunity to coach the game I love at a university I love. I have learned much about leadership from the many athletic directors with whom I have served, and in particular, I want to thank Jack Swarbrick for his unwavering support.

“I am grateful to have worked with the best assistant coaches in the business, and I have been blessed to coach so many phenomenal women.

“To the best fans in the country, it was my honor and privilege to play for you.”

The 13th female coach inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017, McGraw racked up an impressive 936 career wins (ranks sixth all-time among Division I coaches), including 842 at Notre Dame. During the 2018-19 season, McGraw became the fourth-fastest coach to reach the 900-win milestone.

While McGraw will be stepping away from the court, she will remain active within the university and local communities.

“It is inevitable and appropriate that as we mark Muffet’s retirement from coaching today, much of the focus will be on the remarkable record of competitive success that makes her a Hall of Fame coach,” James E. Rohr Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick stated. “But my reflections go more to her as an educator, friend, and role model. Every time I had the privilege of stepping into her classroom, be it at practice or courtside during a game, I was struck by how much she cared about her students and how important it was for her to use basketball as a vehicle to help develop future leaders.

“Winning over 900 games and two national championships make Muffet a legendary coach; nurturing “strong confident women who are not afraid to use their voice and take a stand” makes Muffet a teacher who made a difference in the lives of every student-athlete she taught. While we will not have the benefit of Muffet as our coach going forward, we will make certain that through her ongoing work with Notre Dame Athletics we continue to enjoy all that she has to offer as an educator, friend, and role model.”

McGraw is one of just five NCAA Division I men’s or women’s basketball coaches with at least 930 wins, nine Final Fours and multiple titles – others include Pat Summitt, Tara VanDerveer, Geno Auriemma and Duke men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Notre Dame’s two national championships under McGraw earned distinction as collegiate sports lore in their own right, from Ruth Riley converting two free throws in the final seconds in 2001 to Arike Ogunbowale’s “Ice Twice” heroics in 2018. Adding to the storybook tales, both championship wins took place on Easter Sunday.

“Matt and I want to thank everyone who has touched our lives and shared a part of our amazing journey,” McGraw said. “We will treasure the memories for the rest of our lives.”

Those treasured memories include nine Final Fours (ranks fifth all-time) and 67 NCAA Tournament wins (ranks fourth). Also, Notre Dame’s string of 24 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances remains intact, per the NCAA’s ruling following the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament.

McGraw’s competitive drive has led to 31 20-win seasons — the fourth most all-time among Division I coaches — not to mention 11 30-win campaigns. Speaking of victories, she’s compiled 174 over ranked opponents.

Overall, McGraw has coached one women’s basketball hall of famer, two Olympians (with new additions expected for the 2021 Olympic Games), 20 WNBA players (10 currently in the league), 22 All-Americans and 36 different players who earned all-conference recognition.

A three-time consensus National Coach of the Year, McGraw not only built a women’s basketball power, but inspired a passionate fan base within the local community. Back on Jan. 15, 2001, the women’s program recorded its first official sellout, as more than 11,000 fans packed Purcell Pavilion to watch Notre Dame knock off the top-ranked UConn Huskies for the first time in program history. Fast forward to the present day and the Irish boast more than 56 total sellouts and have ranked among the Top 10 in the nation in attendance in each of the past 14 seasons.

Speaking of the Huskies, Coach McGraw has knocked off UConn five times in the NCAA Tournament, more than doubling the next team’s highest total. Over the last decade, Notre Dame has defeated UConn nine times, while all other Division I teams have combined for 11 wins.

McGraw led Irish squads accumulated 16 regular-season conference titles (including eight in a row from 2012-19) and 11 conference tournament championships (including six in the past eight years). She has also earned seven conference Coach of the Year honors across five leagues.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish - Official Athletics Website
McGraw’s legacy is etched in the history books, but perhaps in a more impactful way, it lives on through the profound effect she has had on the women she has coached.

“There’s something about her that makes you want to move a mountain for her. I believe it’s how much she cares about her players.” – Skylar Diggins-Smith

“She pushed me and pulled things out of me I didn’t know I had. What she did for me in those four years, I came in as a girl and left as a woman.” – Kayla McBride

“The relationships and the impact (McGraw and the assistant coaches) had on my life made me want to be able to give that to other people someday,” – Natalie Achonwa

“I’ve learned so much from her. She empowers women and empowers us to use our platforms for good.” – Arike Ogunbowale

“Muffet McGraw is one of the most iconic figures in the landscape of sport, and one of the greatest influences in my life,” Ruth Riley attested. “Muffet is a pioneer, a trailblazer, a fierce competitor, a champion, a leader, and an advocate for women’s empowerment and equality. Her sustained success over decades has etched an incredible legacy in the archives of sport. It has elevated Notre Dame to one of the elite programs in the country, and I will forever be grateful for the privilege to have played for her.

“It is not just the sheer volume of wins that has been so impressive, but also how she did it,” Riley added. “Muffet has shown us how to be victorious with character and class, and how to compete with integrity. Muffet is not just an exceptional coach, she is a phenomenal woman. I am blessed to call her coach, mentor and friend.”

From book assignments on women’s empowerment or having strong female leaders like Condoleezza Rice or Cathy Englebert speak with her teams, the development of confident young women has always been a program pillar under McGraw.

In 2014, McGraw delivered a passionate description of the type of character she expects from her team.

“One of the things I try to teach the women on my team is that you gotta fight. You gotta fight for what you want. You gotta fight for playing time. You gotta fight to win a national championship. You have to be willing to stand up and fight. And, you have to be accountable in that fight. That accountability doesn’t end when you leave the locker room. It is not just about basketball. Basketball is just a game. The thing that it teaches you is about life, and these are the lessons I want them to learn. I want strong, confident women who are not afraid to use their voice and take a stand.”

McGraw often spoke on women’s rights and inclusion, continuing the efforts left behind by legendary University of Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. McGraw’s comments and challenge to the realm of athletics at the 2019 Final Four reached millions, prompting a tweet from President Barack Obama, a text message from tennis icon Serena Williams and a letter from former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I’m getting tired of the novelty of the first female governor of this state, the first female African-American mayor of this city. When is it going to be the norm instead of the exception? How are these young women looking up and seeing someone that looks like them, preparing them for the future? We don’t have enough female role models. We don’t have enough visible female leaders. We don’t have enough women in power. Girls are socialized to know that when they come out, gender rules are already set. Men run the world. Men have the power. Men make the decisions. When you look at men’s basketball, 99 percent of the jobs go to men. Why shouldn’t 100 or 99 percent of the jobs in women’s basketball go to women?”

In each moment, viral press conference or quiet team meeting, McGraw’s commitment to the promotion of women was solidified as a hallmark of her career, along with her fondness for the challenges coaching presents. She likened guiding a squad to solving a puzzle. Each season, she was presented new pieces to figure out how they all fit together. As this new chapter begins, life presents a much different puzzle, one the McGraws are eager to tackle together.

“I am proud of what we have accomplished and I can turn the page to the next chapter in my life with no regrets, knowing that I gave it my best every day,” McGraw added.

A legendary coach, a role model and an advocate, Coach McGraw has given Irish eyes plenty to smile about. To take stock of an incredible career, it’s best to remember McGraw’s words on the night of her induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame:

“As a coach, I spend most of my time preparing for the next game, so standing up here today has put me in the unusual position of looking back…but what a ride it’s been.”