Woman Helps Coach a Division I Men’s Team

United Press International

Willie Little had no idea he would create a stir by hiring a woman to serve as an assistant coach for his men’s college basketball team. Pat Denning had no idea anyone would care when she accepted the job.

Denning, 34, is the new assistant basketball coach for the men’s team at the University of Illinois-Chicago, an NCAA Division I school. Unlike Mary Fenlon, an assistant coach at the University of Georgetown who serves only as an academic adviser, Denning also is helping Little coach the team in basketball skills.

“She has the experience to do that,” said Little. “I made it clear to them (the other assistant coaches) that it wouldn’t be a secretarial position.”


“I don’t even have a typewriter,” Denning said. “I think I will be doing pressing defense drills. He likes the full-court press.”

Denning saw an advertisement for the job in a local newspaper and kept the ad around, posting it on her bulletin board at a Chicago high school where she taught and coached. Her students, seeing the notice, urged her to apply for the job.

The job posting did not refer to the sex of the applicant, but Little had been thinking all along that he wanted a woman to apply.

“First I had to make sure my present staff would be comfortable,” he said. “The next move was to talk to the chancellor because you don’t want to go and start something you can’t complete. He said, ‘If you find a person qualified we see know problem with it.’

“The problem we thought we would have is no females would apply. I told (Assistant) Coach (Rick) Kilby to say we might be looking for a lady. When you tell one assistant coach it’s like telling Ann Landers. I ended up talking to about eight women.

“To say she was the first qualified person is a lie,” Little said. “There are a lot of females who could do it. I think it took great courage for my administration to let this matter go.”


Once Little hired Denning, they both thought the matter was over. There was no news conference and no fanfare. UIC Sports Information Director Jim Schmidt issued a two-paragraph release to the wire services and local newspapers.

Neither Little nor Denning considered the vast implications of the hiring.

“The first time I had any idea was when I was over at the (players’) apartments tutoring,” Denning said. “I came back home and there was a message to call a reporter.”

“I thought that woman at Georgetown was the first, but the reporter said that ‘she doesn’t do on-court things.’ I said ‘She doesn’t?’ I think if I knew that I might have been more hesitant.”

“Personally, I thought there might be some reaction locally,” Little said. “But I didn’t have any idea there would be any national attention. I didn’t think about that aspect. If I had thought of it I might have had Bozo the Clown there. I think the way Jim (Schmidt) handled it made it more dignified.”

But Denning has been the subject of network television coverage and has been extensively interviewed on the team’s preseason training trips.

“It’s kind of fun doing the ones (interviews) in other cities,” she said. “One day I was mad at a couple of players and they didn’t know it here (in Chicago) but they knew about it in Buffalo because I said so on a radio show there.”


When she’s not doing interviews, however, she’s on the court.

“She’s out on the court and she’s in the war with the boys, so when the boys come to her for whatever reason, she knows what they are going through,” Little said. “She knows the wear-and-tear I’m putting on the boys.