PASSING THE TORCH: Gunter announces retirement
Media, fellow coaches, players and some fans were on hand for the announcement many had expected for a number of months. After 40 years of coaching, 22 at the reigns of the LSU Lady Tiger basketball program, Sue Gunter announced her retirement in a bittersweet press conference.
“I have been absolutely blessed with wonderful people to work with me," Gunter said in a press conference. "We have all gone through a lot over a long period of time, but this is one of those things that at some point was bound to happen."
Many felt Gunter would not return after she left the team last January suffering from acute bronchitis. Although LSU said she would return, the general feeling was she might be finished.
While there was plenty of questions surrounding Gunter’s future, there was enough speculation surrounding who would follow the third-winningest coach all-time in NCAA women’s hoops history. Long-time assistant Pokey Chatman’s named was tossed around after she took control of the team in Gunter’s absence. Experience was the issue and it wasn’t until Chatman led the Lady Tigers a surprising Final Four berth, the program’s first, did people believe she could do the job.
Tuesday, Gunter, the owner of 708 career victories, introduced Chatman as the new head coach of the Lady Tigers.
"I just want to say thank you to coach Gunter," Chatman said. "The biggest thing is the preparation. I don’t think I would have been able to step in this past January 4 and finish up at the Final Four in New Orleans if she hadn't prepared me for this. I want to say thank you, and I'll continue to try and make you and this program proud."
Chatman, a 13-year assistant under Gunter, is in her 17th year with LSU after a four-year all-American career from 1987-91. As for Gunter, she ends her career with 442 wins at LSU, 14 NCAA Tournament appearances, four Elite Eight’s and the illustrious Final Four in her final year, although she was not courtside for the program’s most triumphant accomplishment.
"I can not think of a better way to go out as far as what this team did this year and the things that they accomplished," Gunter added.
Gunter, who trails only Pat Summitt of Tennessee and Texas’ Jody Conradt for career wins, is one of the most respected coaches in NCAA history.
“Women's basketball, the game of basketball, is losing a legend today,” said former Louisiana Tech head coach Leon Barmore. “Sue was one of the most gracious people in the game and always treated Louisiana Tech and myself with respect. I have a lot of respect for her and what she has accomplished in her career. She is one of the three giants in this business. I wish her the best, especially with her health.”
Former Auburn coach Joe Ciampi, who also retired this season, wished Gunter will.
"Congratulations on all your success and on doing it the right way all these years,” Ciampi said. “Now that we are both away from the court, maybe now I can get some Ws from you on the golf course. I wish you the best in your retirement.”
It was Andy Landers’ Lady Bulldogs of Georgia that lost to Gunter’s Tigers in the 2004 Elite Eight, propelling LSU to its first Final Four.
"Sue is a legend,” Landers said. “It's hard to say good-bye, particularly when the legend is a personal friend. Women's basketball is losing one of its pioneers. I only wish Sue the best."
Fellow LSU basketball coach John Brady passed on a fond farewell also.
"Sue Gunter has established herself as one of the best basketball coaches to have ever coached the game,” Brady said. “In addition to her tremendous success as a coach, she has done it with class, dignity and always with a genuine concern for her players. She has represented LSU in a first class way during her career and brought many positives to the University both on and off the floor. I wish her the best in retirement and pray for her to be able to enjoy what she deserves by how much she has given.”
As for the future of Lady Tiger basketball, Chatman assumes control of a program many feel will be among the nation’s elite teams in coming years.
Chatman, an Ama, La., native becomes the fourth head coach of the program after serving as associate coach for Gunter for the past five seasons and assist coach for seven seasons prior to that. Chatman was named acting head coach during this past season and guided the Lady Tigers to the Final Four in New Orleans.
Chatman played four seasons for Gunter and the Lady Tigers and by the time she graduated, held the career assist record and still remains fifth on the career scoring list. She was a three-time All-SEC selection and capped her career by winning the MVP of the 1991 SEC Tournament and earning Kodak All-America honors.