BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Hall of Fame coach Kim Mulkey’s introduction at LSU had an overriding theme that constantly echoed under the domed roof of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
It was the word “home.”
“When you grow up, you don’t forget where you come from,” said Mulkey, who is leaving a Baylor women’s basketball program she built into a three-time national champion to return to her native Louisiana. “This state made us who we were. … It’s so unbelievably comfortable for me to come back to my roots.”
A native of Tickfaw, Louisiana, Mulkey won state championships at Hammond High School, about 45 miles east of LSU. She then won national titles as both a player and assistant coach at Louisiana Tech before spending 21 years in Waco, Texas.
So when an opportunity was presented to the 58-year-old to return to Louisiana and coach at the state’s flagship institution, the pull was too hard to resist – even if it meant leaving a program, she’d built into a perennial contender for another that missed the 2021 NCAA Tournament after going 9-13 last season.
LSU hasn’t made it past the Sweet 16 since 2007.
“There’s only one institution I would have left for, and they made the commitment, and I’m home,” said Mulkey, who helped Baylor win the 2019 NCAA championship.
The Bears lost to UConn last month in the regional finals of this year’s NCAA tournament.
“If you have followed my career, I’ve said it numerous times. No matter where I go … Louisiana is my home,” said Mulkey, who grew up near the town that hosts the state’s annual strawberry festival. “I can’t wait to eat some Ponchatoula strawberries. I can’t wait to have some crawfish.
“I can now tell Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes, and people don’t look at me like I’ve lost my mind.”
On the university’s jet, Mulkey was flown into Baton Rouge by LSU and was greeted by athletic director Scott Woodward, along with men’s basketball coach Will Wade and baseball coach Paul Mainieri, for whom her son, Kramer Robertson, played from 2014 to 2017.
After Mulkey arrived on campus, she was greeted by football coach Ed Orgeron. Mulkey also credited recently retired LSU gymnastics coach D-D Breaux, who remains with LSU’s athletic department, for talking her through what she described as an emotional decision to leave the program she’d built during two decades.
“Many, many tears were shed,” Mulkey said as she described discussions with the Baylor players she was leaving. “All I could tell them was I was going home and that I love them and that I hope that they could understand and not be angry at me. But it’s just a feeling in my gut that it was time to go home.”
Several Mulkey’s families and LSU dignitaries, and even Gov. John Bel Edwards was present at her introduction, which was open to the public. “There are great coaches all over this country, but it’s not every day you get to hire a champion,” Woodward said, noting how LSU fans had watched and admired Mulkey from “down the road” throughout her playing and coaching career.