For the first time since 2008, Stefanie Pemper won’t be patrolling the bench area at Alumni Hall when Navy’s women’s basketball team is playing.
On March 10, the Naval Academy fired Pemper — the program’s all-time winningest coach — after 12 years on the job. Under her direction, the Mids went 214-164, won three Patriot League titles and made six postseason tournament appearances.
Navy was certainly successful under Pemper early on in her tenure, but the past two seasons have been underwhelming as the Mids limped to a 10-19 mark last season and a 7-23 record this past year.
(It’s worth pointing out in this space that Navy hasn’t held its men’s basketball coach to the same standards. Ed DeChellis just completed his ninth season at the helm of the Navy men. In that time, he has posted only three seasons with a .500 or better record. He has never taken Navy to the postseason. He has never finished better than third in the Patriot League. And, like the women, the men have posted back-to-back losing seasons. However, DeChellis’ job seems secure, for now.)
Still, prior to Pemper’s arrival in Annapolis, Navy had never been to a post-season tournament. The Mids went to the NCAA tournament in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and then the WNIT in 2014, 2017 and 2018. Navy won a WNIT game in 2017, beating George Washington. Pemper was twice named Patriot League Coach of the Year.
Even in her final season, Pemper got Navy to overachieve at times. One of their seven wins came on the road against Clemson, who was an NCAA tournament team in 2018-19. It was the first time Navy had ever beaten a team from the mighty ACC in women’s basketball.
“My gratitude to Stefanie for her efforts and the many contributions she has made to the Naval Academy over her 12-year tenure,” Naval Academy Director of Athletics Chet Gladchuk said in a statement. ”We have realized some historic moments that will be cherished for many years to come. On behalf of many within the women’s basketball community, our sincerest appreciation and very best wishes as she moves forward with new challenges.”
Gladchuk announced a national search to find Pemper’s replacement, but he might not have to look too far.
Here’s a few candidates Navy should consider when making their next hire for head women’s basketball coach.
Tillett just completed her second season as the head coach at Longwood, but she was at Navy under Pemper for four years before that. She moved up the ranks quickly at Navy, serving as an assistant for two years, then recruiting coordinator and then finally associate head coach in 2017-18. Navy posted back-to-back 20-win seasons and went to the WNIT in Tilliet’s final two seasons in Annapolis. Tillett was also Navy’s defensive coordinator, engineering two units that led the Patriot League in defensive scoring twice.
At Longwood, Tillett walked into a situation that would take a lot of work to repair, taking over a team that had won just six conference games in its past two seasons. After a bumpy first year, Tillett led the Lancers to an 8-10 mark in Big South play this past season, tying a program-best record for conference victories. Two of Tillett’s recruits made the Big South All-Freshmen team and Kyla McMakin was named Big South Freshman of the Year.
Tillett is a graduate of William & Mary, spent 15 years coaching at the high school level in Virginia, was a scout for the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream and was also an assistant coach at Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Navy should absolutely give her a call. The question will be, does she want to leave what she’s building at Longwood to come into another challenging situation at Navy?
Coll is someone who knows the Patriot League very well, having spent the majority of her coaching career as an assistant in the league. Her first stop in the Patriot League was at Navy as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator in 2007-08 under former head coach Tom Marryott. From there, she spent four years at Lehigh, a season outside of the conference at Towson, and has been at American for the past seven seasons. Coll just completed her second season as associate head coach for the Eagles.
As an assistant coach, Coll has been able to contribute to her team’s success at most stops. She was part of two Lehigh teams that made the NCAA tournament, helped two Towson players get all-CAA honors and has helped guide two American teams to Patriot League titles and the NCAA tournament.
Coll played collegiately at UMBC and spent a few years playing overseas in Wales, Holland, Germany and Portugal. She’s never been a head coach, but knows the Patriot League and recruiting inside the league’s geographic footprint better than most.
Since 2014, Robinson has been a top assistant at one of the most successful women’s basketball programs in the country, just down the road at Maryland. With Robinson on staff, the Terps have claimed five Big Ten titles and were on track to make a sixth NCAA tournament this past season — likely as one of the top four seeds. He also helped the Terps land top four recruiting classes in 2016, 2017 and 2019.
Robinson is also a veteran of the Air Force, having enlisted after graduating from high school in 1996. According to his bio on the Terps’ website, he served more than eight years, which included three tours “in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.” He was a Weapons Load Crew member on F-16s, as well as Special Operations Senior Command Post Controller.
After graduating from UCF in 2007, Robinson coached at Brevard Community College, Viera High School, the EDGE Training Facility and at the University of Kansas.
While he isn’t an academy graduate, Robinson is someone who would likely have an understanding and an appreciation for the duties of Service Academy athletes. Mix that in with his resume as a coach and what he’s helped Maryland accomplish, and he just might be the ideal candidate for Navy. If Robinson wants to be a head coach, Annapolis is a good place to start.
Other names to consider:
- Jeff Harada: He just completed his third season as head coach at Cal State Fullerton, leading the team to a 17-14 mark this past season. Harada was an assistant coach under Pemper from 2011 to 2014, a stretch in which Navy made three straight postseason appearances. Aside from that previous stint at Navy, Harada has worked on the west coast for the majority of his career. There’s also the question of, would he see the Patriot League as a step-up from the Big West?
- Tia Jackson: A native of the Eastern Shore of Maryland — and one of the greatest players of all-time from there — Jackson just completed her fifth season as an assistant coach at Miami. Jackson has been an assistant at some of the best programs in the country, like Stanford, UCLA, Duke and Rutgers, but her lone stint as a head coach didn’t go the way she wanted. In four seasons at Washington from 2007 through 2011, she never finished with a winning record. After working as an assistant coach for the past decade, maybe she’d want another crack at leading a program, and maybe she’d want to do that close to home.