Pitt Athletics decided to uproot the second basketball program this offseason as it fired women’s coach Suzie McConnell-Serio Thursday.
McConnell-Serio spent five years as head coach with the Panthers but didn’t have much success, going 67-87 overall and 22-58 in the ACC. Pitt had a record of 10-20 and 2-14 in the ACC last season, and capped it off with a 72-38 blowout loss to Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC tournament — McConnell-Serio’s last game.
Only one of McConnell-Serio’s campaigns was successful — the 2014-15 season. That team included future WNBA player Brianna Kiesel, who led the Panthers to a 20-12 record, including a win in the NCAA tournament.
McConnell-Serio is just another on the list of coaching changes athletic director Heather Lyke has made since joining Pitt last year. Lyke dismissed Kevin Stallings, the men’s basketball coach, and Greg Miller, the women’s soccer coach in both of their respective offseasons. Athletics also brought on Samantha Snider, who took over as gymnastics coach when Debbie Yohman retired, as well as Katie Hazelton, who took over as diving head coach when Julian Krug retired.
Though it may seem unusual to hire a new head coaches for each basketball programs, Pitt has been in this type of situation before. Men’s coach Ben Howland left for the UCLA job and Pitt fired women’s coach Traci Waites, leaving two vacancies at the Pete in 2003.
Still, McConnell-Serio is a Pittsburgh legend when it comes to women’s basketball in Pennsylvania. She played high school basketball at Seton LaSalle and was considered a Penn State luminary. She also coached at Oakland Catholic from 1991 to 2003, winning three state championships.
After a stint coaching in the WNBA, she came back to Pittsburgh and coached the Duquesne women’s basketball team from 2007 to 2013. Except for her first season, McConnell-Serio led the Dukes to 20-win seasons each season, including a Women’s National Invitation Tournament berth in those five seasons. To top it off, she was inducted in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
It’s surprising that a woman who had so much winning experience as head coach had such a difficult time winning at Pitt, but troubles with turnover and a tough conference were difficult for anyone to overcome.
The ACC is one of the toughest conferences in women’s basketball. At the end of this year, seven of the conference’s teams made the NCAA tournament, five were ranked in the top 25, two made the final four and Notre Dame won the NCAA championship.
That is the conference McConnell-Serio was hired to win in when she got the job in 2013, the year Pitt joined the ACC. No one was expecting to be a national title contender, but only one season above .500 isn’t acceptable for any team in a good conference.
There was also a lot of roster turnover in her final years at the head coaching position. After the 2015-16 season, two key players — Stasha Carey and Fred Potvin — both transferred. Carey was a two-year starter and the Panthers’ leading scorer, and had been a top shot-blocker and rebounder in the ACC, while Potvin was the team’s best 3-point shooter.
The next year also saw a huge departure with the face of the program and hometown kid, Brenna Wise, leaving for Indiana. Wise had started both of her two years as a Panther and was both the leading scorer and rebounder.
Despite coming into Pitt to rebuild a women’s program that wanted to be competitive in the ACC, it seems that McConnell-Serio couldn’t get the team any real sustaining success as head coach. The promises from the 2014-15 NCAA tournament berth never transferred to the next three years she was here and the program fell back into mediocrity.
The low point of McConnell-Serio’s stint as head coach was losing to Duquesne in the City Game each of the four years she was head coach. She came to Pitt to reach new heights and ended up getting passed on by her old program, which actually made the NCAA tournament for the first time without her in 2017.
McConnell-Serio deserved to be fired. If Pitt wants to have a better women’s basketball team, the program can’t settle for seasons were you get blown out more than you win games. It isn’t easy firing a local legend like McConnell-Serio, but Lyke made the right call.