UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said in a statement Saturday evening that he met with Caldwell earlier this week and made what he termed "a very attractive multiyear offer to keep her in Westwood."
"They did all they could to keep me at UCLA, and I appreciate those efforts," Caldwell, who will be introduced at a news conference Monday afternoon in Baton Rouge, La., said in a statement. Her original contract with the Bruins was for five years and $1.5 million.
Caldwell, 38, is returning to the Southeastern Conference, where she won national championships as a player and an assistant coach at Tennessee. She will replace Van Chancellor, who resigned after LSU failed to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 13 years.
Caldwell guided the Bruins to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA tournament and was selected Pacific 10 Conference coach of the year last season. This season, UCLA set school records for regular-season victories (26), Pac-10 victories (16) and scoring defense (55.3 points per game) on the way to earning a No. 3 seeding in the NCAA tournament.
The Bruins defeated Montana in the first round before falling to Gonzaga on the Bulldogs' home court in Spokane, Wash. UCLA won two NCAA tournament games in the last two seasons, one more than it had won in the nine years preceding Caldwell's arrival.
"This team has been an example of what hard work and perseverance represent," Caldwell said. "Although I was brought in here to teach them, I have been able to learn so much from them."
Guerrero said he would immediately commence a national search for Caldwell's successor.
"We are extremely sad to see Nikki Caldwell depart UCLA," Guerrero said. "After giving Nikki her first opportunity to be a head coach, we have all worked together to build the women's basketball program into one of the best in the West, increasing attendance and donation levels."