Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger may have grand visions for the KU women’s basketball program. He may envision a perennial winner that draws respectable crowds to Allen Fieldhouse. He may imagine a charismatic coach who hauls in highly-ranked recruiting classes and pumps energy into a program that has treaded around .500 for the last decade.
But on Monday afternoon, after Kansas fired coach Bonnie Henrickson following a second straight losing season, Zenger only gave a brief statement about his expectations for the program.
“Basketball is important at the University of Kansas,” Zenger said. “And we expect it to be at the upper end of this conference.”
Those expectations, and Henrickson’s inability to meet them, were the primary reason Zenger decided to move in a new direction after 11 seasons. After coming to Kansas from Virginia Tech in 2004, Henrickson led the Jayhawks to the postseason seven times, going to the women’s NIT five times and the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and 2013. Both NCAA Tournament appearances included surprising runs to the Sweet 16.
But Henrickson was never able to sustain success or build the program into a consistent winner in the Big 12. In 11 seasons, Henrickson never led Kansas to a winning record in the Big 12. The Jayhawks finished 15-17 this season, including a 5-13 mark in the Big 12 Conference. The season ended in a loss to K-State in the Big 12 Tournament in Dallas — the program’s third loss to its in-state rival this season.
Henrickson received a buyout of $395,000, per the terms of a contract extension signed after the 2013 Sweet 16 appearance.
“There’s not one thing about Bonnie Henrickson that we in this department, and this campus, don’t love working with,” Zenger said. “Great ambassador. Great teammate. We just expect to win on the court.”
Zenger said Kansas would begin a national search to find its next women’s coach. He did not put any timetable on the search, nor provide a window into the process.
Henrickson on Monday did not return a message left by The Star. KU assistant Katie O’Connor will serve as interim coach until a successor is hired.
The good news for potential candidates is that Zenger doesn’t appear to have any sort of template or criteria for the next head coach.
“We are wide open,” Zenger said.
“We believe this is one of the best jobs in the country,” he added, “and we’re anxious to see who’s interested.”