When Carol Ross took the job as coach of the Florida women's basketball team 12 years ago, she received dozens of calls asking, "Are you crazy?"
Friday afternoon, the calls poured in asking that same question. But this time the reason was much different.
In a move that stunned the administration, colleagues and players, Ross resigned Friday, saying she had taken the program as far as she could. She leaves as Florida's winningest coach.
"I had a dream that we would come here and build this program into a nationally respected and recognized program and we did that," Ross said. "But I also had dreams of championships. And we have not done that. There's the old saying that goes when you love something you have to let it go. I love this program and I think in order for it to be where I want it to go, I have to let it go."
Florida had a disappointing 18-11 regular season and lost 90-52 to BYU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But Ross said it wasn't one thing that led to her decision, but part of an annual self-evaluation she conducts at the end of every season.
The 43-year-old Oakland, Miss., native said Florida likely will be her final collegiate coaching job.
"I'm not leaving because I'm unhappy," said Ross, who earned approximately $150,000 per year. "I've always made my moves on instincts. I sensed the time was right."
Athletic director Jeremy Foley had a scheduled meeting with Ross Friday morning to discuss a contract extension. Instead, Ross informed him of her decision to leave.
"It's a sad day for all of us," said Foley, who described himself as stunned. "As a coach the record speaks for itself, but as a person there's none better. Class has always been associated with her and you see that by making this decision. She put the University of Florida's program ahead of anything else and that's class in my book. We count our blessings that we had the opportunity to work with her 12 years."
Ross was 247-121 in 12 seasons, including 84-63 in SEC play. Under her guidance, Florida appeared in nine NCAA Tournaments, reaching the Elite Eight in 1998, and had seven 20-win seasons. UF had one 20-win season in 16 seasons before her arrival.
She was twice named SEC coach of the year, twice Women's Basketball Coaches Association District 9 coach of the year and a finalist for the Naismith national coach of the year two times. She coached 15 All-SEC players, UF's first All-American (a total of seven) and eight players who went on to play in the WNBA.
As Ross spoke with the media Friday night, her players stood in stunned silence.
"It took us completely off guard. I never expected this," junior forward Trish Patterson said, wiping away tears. "But I fully understand and I'm glad she explained it the way she did. I know it wasn't easy for her and it's not easy for us. But I understand that she took this program and put it on the map, now she wants somebody else to take it further."
"I understand the point she was trying to get across, but I don't agree because I feel like she could take us to the next level," freshman Tamia Williams said. "But I understand she has to do what she has to do. I'm just going to work harder to make her dreams come true. She won't be there, but I want to make sure she's the coach we're cutting the nets down for."
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said: "I was shocked and saddened at the news. It is a big loss. Not only is she a coach in our conference, but she's a special friend to me. No one has ever had a bigger impact on Lady Gator basketball and Carol Ross did it with class and dignity."
Ross said she is proud of the accomplishments, but regrets never winning a championship.
"I would love to have won championships," she said. "I would have loved to have looked at every player and have them experience what it feels like to be the very best at what you do. That's always been the most difficult thing for me, to not have been able to bring that experience to my players."
In the women's tournament, eight region semifinals are today, starting at breakfast time on the West Coast and ending past bedtime in the East. Unbeaten Connecticut is the No. 1 seed in the Mideast and familiar names such as Tennessee, Texas Tech, Old Dominion and Stanford also will be in action.