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Women want chances to coach men's teams

Among female college basketball coaches, it is a sore subject.

As women's basketball has become more popular and prestigious, men have infiltrated the coaching jobs. Most top women's coaches agree that's fair.

But why, they ask, aren't women coaching men's teams?

"I don't have a problem with men coaching women's basketball," Florida coach Carol Ross said. "I have a problem with women not coaching men. Nobody wants to be denied an opportunity."

When it comes to Title IX, opportunity is the key word. And men have plenty of opportunity to coach girls and women at the high school, college and now professional levels.

Among all NCAA women's basketball programs, the percentage of female coaches (64.3 percent) has remained fairly steady since 1984, aside from a dip to 58.5 percent in 1988. In the late 1970s nearly 80 percent of the college coaches were women, but men have migrated into the ranks as the money has.

All the coaches in this year's Final Four are women: Tennessee's Pat Summitt, Old Dominion's Wendy Larry, Stanford's Tara VanDerveer and Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw. But men such as Leon Barmore of Louisiana Tech, Geno Auriemma of Connecticut and Andy Landers of Georgia have taken their programs to top levels. The powerful Southeastern Conference is equally balanced.

"It makes no difference whether you're a man or a woman," Ross said. "We all have a healthy respect for one another."

In Florida, hiring men to coach high school girls is more the rule than the exception, said Boca Ciega coach Harry Elifson, who led the Pirates to state titles in 1995 and 1996.

In Pinellas County, 13 of the 16 public school girls coaches are men. So are most private school coaches, as are the five coaches who have been named Florida girls basketball coach of the year.

"You've just got to approach (girls) a little bit differently," said Elifson, last year's Florida coach of the year. "I don't look at it as coaching girls or boys, I look at it as coaching.

"A coach is not a coach anymore. You're a guidance counselor, you're a dad, a mom, a psychologist. You're everything," he said.

And men seem to be as successful as women in coaching female players. So what is the problem?

"The problem is that the administrators will not flip-flop," said Bett Jaynes, the CEO of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association. "If a woman wanted to go to a university or high school men's or boys team, they'd have the door slammed in their face. That's pretty contradictory, and it's a very emotional issue among women coaches."

Kentucky's Bernadette Locke-Mattox was a high profile assistant under Rick Pitino for several years but is now head coach of the Wildcats' women's team. There is at least one woman serving as head coach of a men's college team: Kerri McTiernan at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn. She hasn't heard of any others in the United States.

McTiernan called it "troubling" that athletic directors don't even think about calling top women's coaches when a men's job is available.

"You stay in it not to break barriers," McTiernan said. "You stay in it because you love the game and want to coach the game and bring a program to a higher level. It does get tedious, frustrating, but in a lot of careers women are banging their heads against the wall. This is just another one."

_ Staff writer Bruce Lowitt contributed to this report.