Mel Greenberg was surprised at the timing. Ticha Penicheiro wondered whose decision it really was. And Debbie Taylor cried.
Wendy Larry's resignation on Tuesday after 24 seasons, 17 consecutive conference championships and 20 NCAA tournament appearances reverberated throughout the world of women's college basketball.
"I was just sad. I think I sat at my desk and cried," said Taylor, in her 12th season as William and Mary's head women's coach. "I just think it's a really sad day for women's basketball and for Old Dominion.
"She's a great lady. She's been great for the game. She's been a great mentor for the young coaches in the league."
Larry, a former ODU player who took the program over from Marianne Stanley in 1997, led the Lady Monarchs to five Sweet 16 appearances, a trip to the Elite Eight in 2002 and the Final Four in 1997, when they lost to Tennessee in the national championship game after beating Stanford.
Though Larry had just one losing season, in 1991, wins against national powers had become a fond memory, and ODU's stranglehold on the Colonial Athletic Association tournament — the Lady Monarchs' 17 straight titles from 1992 to 2008 are an NCAA record — had slipped.
This season, ODU lost for the first time ever in the CAA quarterfinals, a loss athletic director Wood Selig cited in announcing Larry's resignation, along with declining attendance, season ticket sales and other factors.
Larry and Selig had a public falling out earlier this spring, when Selig declined to renew her contract, which had one year remaining, past the 2011-2012 season.
"I wasn't surprised that it happened. I was surprised it happened now," said Greenberg, who pioneered coverage of the women's game during his 40 years at The Philadelphia Inquirer. "I thought everybody decided to go back to their bunkers. … Maybe they had already made decisions and just wanted to give it some spacing. (Larry's resignation) would have looked worse, maybe, coming on top of all that."
Penicheiro, a two-time Kodak All-American and conference player of the year from 1994-98 at ODU, said Larry's resignation shocked her.
"Where's the loyalty?" she said from California, where she plays for the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks. "I know the program hasn't been doing great for the last couple of years, but she has done so much for that program. … When a program or a team is so successful, like the Lakers, you spoil your fans, you spoil your owners, because you always win. Nobody's used to Old Dominion losing. It always seems like a tragedy. Well, guess what? That's sports. There's up and downs.
"(ODU) is a great program for women's basketball, and Coach Larry has a lot to do with it. It's sad to know there's a little bump in the road and they show her the door, if that's what happened."
Penicheiro, who came to ODU from Portugal, said Larry helped ease her transition to a new country, even attempting to speak her native language.
"It was great to know I went to a place where they welcomed me with open arms, and she was one of the main people," Penicheiro said. "I just loved her intensity and her knowledge of the game, and then off the court she was very laid-back, and we could laugh. When it was business, it was business, but she became a good friend."
Shareese Grant played for Larry from 2001 to 2005.
"She was always respectful, and she was a great leader. I looked up to her for that," Grant said. "One word I can use to describe her would be intensity. She was always intense. We could be up by 30 and she'd be on the sideline, still coaching hard."
Taylor's William and Mary team didn't beat Larry's Lady Monarchs in 27 tries, but final scores were secondary to the coaches' friendship.
"She's just such a good friend and an amazing coach and an even better person," Taylor said. "I'm going to miss her terribly. We obviously competed year in and year out, but when the game was over, we went out for drinks."
Taylor said ODU's dominance of the CAA drove the growth of the conference.
"Everybody had to work harder because Old Dominion set the bar so high," she said.
Drexel ended the Lady Monarchs' CAA tournament dominance with a 62-41 semifinal win in 2009, when ODU dropped three straight CAA games for just the third time since joining the league in 1991. A loss to James Madison in the 2010 CAA championship game followed before this season's 72-55 quarterfinal loss to Delaware.
"You have to give credit to CAA schools for understanding what they had to do to finally start overtaking Old Dominion," Greenberg said. "The conference really got better."
Greenberg said Larry was a "great steward" of the game, and particularly praised her overseas recruiting acumen.
"My lasting memory is somebody who stood up for her program, stood up for her players, stood up for women's basketball," he said. "One of the great names. I'm sure in the next few years you'll see her get nominated and go into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, and it'll be well-deserved."
On Greenberg's blog, Stanley, now an assistant coach with the Washington Mystics, said: "Wendy has demonstrated a tremendous love for Old Dominion, first and foremost for all the student-athletes that have come through the university. … No one is more loyal to ODU than Wendy Larry. Of course, I join all her colleagues and friends in wishing her well in her next endeavor."
ODU said Larry will remain at the school in a fund-raising role, but Greenberg and others wonder if her future is in administration.
"Maybe we haven't seen the last of her," he said. "It wouldn't be shocking for, a year from now, somebody wanting to take a look at her, when more jobs open up."
Penicheiro would be happy to see Larry stay involved in the game.
"She's a legend at Old Dominion, just like a lot of our players, and it's really sad it had to end like this," she said. "I just hope this is not it for her, because I think she has a lot to give to women's basketball."
As to Larry's potential successors, Greenberg speculated about former ODU assistant and current Elon coach Karen Barefoot, a star player at Menchville High and Christopher Newport University, current Lady Monarchs assistant Nikita Lowry Dawkins and Western Kentucky coach Mary Cowles, whom Selig hired when he was the Hilltoppers' athletic director. Former ODU great Nancy Lieberman's named has also cropped up.
"You never know what Lieberman wants to do, but she always wants to get her hand in something," Greenberg said.
Taylor, for one, isn't ready to imagine who will replace Wendy's foot-stomping, towel-chewing presence on the ODU bench.
"No matter what at the end of the game, Wendy would always walk over to me and give me a really big hug and be so positive and so gracious," Taylor said. "That really speaks volumes for her. She was always great to my kids.
"She's a class act across the board. She did the right thing for the right reasons."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times