Congratulations to Jennie Baranczyk on being named coach of the Oklahoma Sooners women’s basketball team.
I mean that.
But it hurts to say it.
Last week, Baranczyk was the Urbandale kid who starred at Dowling Catholic High School and then the University of Iowa before eventually taking over her hometown Drake women’s basketball team. She was, in my mind, one of Des Moines’ brightest lights.
Now she’s the big boss for the Sooner women’s team.
Good for Jennie.
Brutal bummer for Drake and Des Moines.
I covered the Drake women’s team early in my career when they had another superstar coach, Lisa Bluder. Covering teams was the highlight of my career, which is sad since it happened before I was a full-time journalist.
Bluder left for Iowa 20 years ago. I loved — and still love — Bluder, her assistants Jan Jensen and Jenny Fitzgerald, a pair of Drake alums.
But it still hurts a little that they coach the Hawkeyes.
I understood it.
Iowa is in the Big Ten, a so-called Power Five conference. They’re the biggest and best schools when it comes to sports. Plus, Bluder was from nearby Lin-Marr. She was moving up and going home.
Baranczyk gave Drake nine magnificent seasons, including six 20-win seasons, three NCAA Tournament bids and two consecutive seasons where her Bulldogs posted undefeated conference records.
Now she’s off to ply her skills for the Sooners, another Power Five school.
I’m happy for Baranczyk. I’ve only interacted with her a few times, but each one was terrific. I felt uplifted every time. She’s fun and driven. She made my beloved Drake women’s team winners.
What more could I ask of her?
Well, maybe I could beg her to stay.
But I’m a realist.
That Baranczyk left Drake for Oklahoma is a fact of life, one that Bulldog fans are well used to by now.
Remember when Keno Davis, the great Tom Davis’ son, took Drake men’s team to the NCAA Tournament back in 2008? The younger Davis got $1 million to go coach Providence.
Drake couldn’t come up with the cash. Well, there were rumors that some boosters cobbled together a competing offer, but the administration didn’t want the basketball coach to be paid more than the university president.
Regardless, Keno went to Providence and the men’s program endured a series of mediocre coaches until Drake hired Darian DeVries, who got the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament this year.
Drake rewarded him with an eight-year extension. We’ll have to wait for a couple years of federal 990 form filings to find out how much cash is involved, but I’d put a nickel down that DeVries makes more than the university president now.
That said, if DeVries took the Bulldogs to the tournament a second year in a row, nothing in that extended contract would prevent another Power Five school from scooping him up.
This is the sad song of mid-major basketball schools. It’s all about the coaches, but once you get good ones you can’t hang on to them.
I’m a Des Moines native. This is my hometown. I moved away for a few years. I didn’t like it. I came home. This is my place.
Over the years, I’ve learned to stop taking it personally when bright lights such as Baranczyk leave for more money and bigger stakes in other places. Everybody has the right to pursue their highest levels.
But the losses still squeeze the heart.
The reality is for so many high achievers, Des Moines is a stop on the journey, not a destination.