Ringler: Clemson women can succeed quickly

There is a new player in the women’s game. After more than a year of anticipation, Clemson recently announced it would add women’s golf to its athletic lineup beginning in the fall of 2013.

The talk for many years has been that adding women’s golf at Clemson was a no-brainer. With the Clemson administration adding a women’s team, that leaves just a few BCS-conference schools without a golf team. The ones that now top the head-scratching list are Georgia Tech not having a women’s team and Miami not having a men’s squad.

But for now, the excitement of a new program rests with the Tigers.

Clemson men’s coach Larry Penley, who will serve as the school’s director of golf and is in charge of leading the search to find a women’s coach, has high hopes for the new program. And there’s no reason he shouldn’t. Despite an un-Clemson-like season last year – the Tigers finished No. 27 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings and did not advance to the NCAA Championship – Penley has made his squad one of the nation’s premier men’s programs.

“We are going after the best coach available,” Penley said July 18, the day the announcement was made. “I’m sure it will be a person with head-coaching experience. We are going to be flooded with resumes, I’m sure, so we will have to go through that process, but we will be selecting the best person available.”

The job opening, posted this week, certainly will draw a large number of qualified applicants. But this is a job that needs to be hand-selected, as many coaches will be cautious to apply in fear of their current administration finding out. Getting the right coach in place is the key if the new Clemson women’s program wants to compete with the powers in the ACC and neighboring SEC.

The plan is to hire a coach as soon as possible, then start competing in fall 2013. That is more than two years away, but it is a good idea to wait. Starting a program too soon can spell disaster. Signing average players or just picking up leftovers from other top schools can hold a program back for the entire cycle of that recruiting class. Most of the top players in the 2012 high school class already have committed or have their list narrowed. Even some of the top players in the class of 2013 are getting close.

So what can Clemson expect? History tells us the Tigers will need at least two, maybe three years to get to the NCAA Championship. That would be on pace with a few other large schools that have started women’s golf programs in recent years.

In the past 20 years, a few start-up programs have excelled quickly.

Tennessee started its program in the 1992-93 season and played in the East Regional that first year, then advanced to the NCAA Championship the next season. Chattanooga also took just one year to make NCAAs after starting its program in 2007-08, but the Mocs have not been back. Kent State started its program in the 1998-99 season and qualified for the finals just two years later. UNLV took three years to advance to the NCAA Championship after starting its program in 2001-02.

Tulane is the most recent example. After Hurricane Katrina halted the program in 2005, the school resurrected the program for the 2008-09 season, and the Green Wave advanced to the NCAA finals in each of its first two seasons back. Tulane also hired its coach, J.T. Horton, more than a full year in advance.

Who are the top candidates for Clemson?

It might be tough for a coach who is having success at a school to leave just as this season is getting started and sit out for two full seasons. That’s why I might start with one who is not coaching but is not that far removed. Shelly Haywood, a former Arizona head coach and longtime assistant, would be a good hire for the Tigers. With her Pac-10 Conference and NCAA postseason experiences, Haywood not only would be able to go after the top recruits but would not be intimidated by the challenge to climb quickly.

Because of what Horton has done at Tulane and the success Colette Murray has had at Chattanooga, they also would be attractive candidates who are familiar with the start-up process.

Other coaches with whom I might speak: Arkansas’ Shauna Estes-Taylor, Michigan State’s Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll and Denver’s Sammie Chergo.

After all, as Penley said: “It’s not going to take us long to get the women the same type of recognition (as the men). I know Duke has dominated our conference, and I am not going to make any predictions right now as to when we will be beating Duke, but it shouldn’t take us long.”

Selecting the right coach will be important to help the Tigers make a quick splash in women’s college golf, even if it might be a bit more difficult to beat Duke than Penley believes.

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