Just 16 days ago Nyla Milleson was let go as the head coach of the Lady Bears.
Missouri State President Clif Smart and Athletic Director Kyle Moats both took turns citing a laundry list of reasons, both on and off the court, as to why the decision was made; including poor on court play, a drop in the program’s prestige, and declining season ticket sales.
Since then, many have speculated as to whom will take over the reins of the Lady Bears, with the general consensus of Missouri State faithful hoping it is a Missouri State alum that can help restore the luster of the once proud program.
Names like Charity Elliott and Jackie Stiles have all been pretty popular over the past two weeks.
But, if Smart and Moats are truly looking for a former Lady Bear to right the ship, then they don’t have to look very far.
In fact, they don’t even have to leave the Ozarks.
Former SMS point guard and current Crowder College head coach Tina Robbins would be a phenomenal choice to restore the Lady Bears legacy.
Robbins, who is one of the most decorated players in the history of the program, has spent much of the last 18 years coaching at various levels of high school and college basketball.
She has proven that she can produce winners on the court.
As a coach, Robbins was successful at both Joplin and Glendale, going 143-119 at her Ozark Conference stops before she took over struggling Division 3 program LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas where she doubled the school’s win total in her two years.
Now at Crowder, a Division 1 junior college institution, she has resurrected the Lady Roughrider program in her six seasons, improving the win total each year. The last two seasons have seen Crowder post back-to-back 20-win seasons including a 29-win output this season, resulting in a NJCAA National Tournament appearance.
There also aren’t many people that know the true greatness of the Lady Bears Basketball program better than Robbins.
As a player, Robbins, who still holds single-season and career records in assists and steals at Missouri State, was a three-year starter. She was a member of Cheryl Burnett’s first four NCAA Tournament teams; including a Sweet 16 appearance in 1993 and a Final Four run in 1992.
Robbins, who was named the Midwest Region’s MVP in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, went 104-23 as a player, and was also part of four conference championship teams.
However, Robbins may not offer much resistance to the declining season ticket sales.
While it is something that can be helped with better performances on the court, could some of the blame also fall on the university?
The Lady Bears aren’t the only team having problems putting fans in seats. Football, men’s basketball, and baseball also have discouraging crowds, even when playing well.
Because it is a university-wide issue one has to wonder what the problems causing this are.
Could the athletic department do a better job of creating a personal connection between the university’s teams and the fan base? If so, would this help create more of a buzz around Missouri State athletics, helping to bring more fans to games and creating additional revenue?
Also, what can be done to get more students involved and attending games? The atmosphere at JQH Arena can be as stale as a root canal at times. Would getting a more active student section create a better experience for the paying fan?
Regardless of who is attending games, there is one obvious question mark with a potential Robbins hire.
She has no Division 1 head coaching experience.
Looking at Milleson, who also had no prior D-1 head coaching experience, and her perceived inability to consistently recruit and develop quality players, it is easy to question why the university would go that route again?
Coaching at the JUCO level offers as equally challenging factors as any other level. Not only are there the issues of having to develop players that are deficient in one area or another (be it on or off the court), but there is also the task of blending players together in a brief two year span, while managing varying reasons that are responsible for bringing them to the junior college route.
We have seen this work out in other instances.
Jerry Tarkanian, Gene Keady, and former SMS coach Charlie Spoonhour all made similar jumps from the JUCO ranks to D-1 head coaching.
They all parlayed their successful JUCO careers into Hall of Fame Division 1 careers, using the same styles and techniques that proved effective early in their previous coaching stops.
Despite being just one year removed from a regular season Missouri Valley Conference championship, Missouri State is in complete rebuilding mode. The firing of Milleson, coupled with the recent transfer announcements of Nicole Smallwood, Alex Hillyer, and Tori Henderson show just how tumultuous 2012-2013 was for the Lady Bears.
For a sinking program, the opportunity to bring in a Missouri State Hall of Famer, who is familiar with the area, could inject excitement and offer a clean break from the previous regime.
Since Cheryl Burnett’s resignation is 2002 the program has been searching for someone to build on the foundation she started.
Why not Tina?