Boise State women’s basketball coach Gordy Presnell, the winningest coach in program history, is the guest on this week’s episode of the Bronco Legends Podcast. Prensell discusses losing to Oregon State in the NCAA Tournament, his 32 years as a head coach and opens up for the first time about personal problems that contributed to his only three losing seasons. The full interview can be heard at BlueTurfSports.com, but here’s a portion of the conversation. The questions and answers were edited for clarity and length:
It’s been a couple weeks since you suffered the 80-75 overtime loss at Oregon State in the NCAA Tournament. Have you been able to move on or is the way it ended still painful to think about?
“It’s been a hard couple of weeks. My wife and I went up and escaped for a weekend up in Spokane and got away from everything but yeah, that was a tough way to lose. I’m proud of our players and the way they responded in that game, but it’s tough to lose to Oregon State at Oregon State and just that whole week with the seeding and everything, it was a tough week. But there were about 300 teams that weren’t there so I’m glad and proud we were there, but we didn’t reach our ultimate goal to win a game in the NCAA Tournament. I can guarantee you that will be another goal for next year.”
You held the lead late in the fourth quarter before eventually losing in overtime. What was the toughest thing to take about the final few minutes and how the game ended?
“The last nine seconds are what stung. Our kid got hit in the head, and then I wish we would have been able to get the timeout we were calling. We must have had eight people calling timeout. There’s pressure on everyone there, and you can say things happen earlier in the game that may have changed that, but still, we’re up four with 17 seconds left and to lose that doesn’t happen very often, especially with the group we have. It was hard. It was a hard ending, but if you look back at the whole year, winning the Husky Classic, winning the Mountain West Tournament again, being league champions, there were so many positives. It was a great journey and now we started up again last Monday. We’re back at it without Joyce and Marta but we’re getting ready to go again.”
Your program has never won a game in the NCAA Tournament. Is it hard not to think about what that win would have done for the program?
“You think about everything. What it would have done for our school, what it would have done to put us on the map going into next year because we should have a pretty good year next year, what it would have done for my assistants and maybe their careers. But beyond all that, what it would have done for our players in terms of a lifetime memory of what they accomplished. There’s no telling if we could have beaten Gonzaga in the next game. I still don’t know how at 28-4 and No. 38 in the RPI we were the 13 seed.”
Have you gotten any answers yet as to why you guys were a No. 13 seed and a team like Arkansas-Little Rock had a worse record and a No. 61 RPI but was rewarded with the No. 12 seed?
“I haven’t yet but I’m looking forward at our conference meetings in Phoenix in a few weeks because the head of the selection committee is the Senior Women’s Administrator at Nevada, so I have a lot of good questions for her. Arkansas-Little Rock played a number of really quality opponents before Christmas, but they didn’t win any of them. We need to figure that out. We still have a number of games left to schedule, but it’s hard when you are considered a mid-major but you’re knocking on the door because people don’t want to come to Boise.
“We have to figure out how we can schedule better. We play at Louisville, we’re in the WNIT next year and we’re hoping to get two home games if we’re able to win the first one, but hopefully I can get some questions answered.
You set the program record with 28 wins this season. You lose two starters, but bring in Oregon transfer Mallory McGwire. Can next year’s team be better than this year’s group was?
“Absolutely. We still have to find some pieces and put it all together though. Marta Hermida will be difficult to replace, Joyce Harrell will be tough to replace. We’ll miss those two. But Mallory McGwire is a special player and our freshman Maggie Freeman was the state player of the year in Oregon, so we have two people already here that can help fill some shoes.”
You first became head coach in 1987 as the women’s coach at Seattle Pacific University. Was coaching women’s basketball always the plan for you?
“I always thought I would end up coaching boys high school basketball, but applied at some positions in Seattle and things didn’t work out and I ended up meeting my wife and all of a sudden we started blossoming at SPU and my last three years there we were 89-5 and lost in the national championship game. I actually interviewed here for the women’s job and didn’t get it prior to those three years, and I wanted to come back to Idaho, so that was pretty depressing, but as it turns out, we had three great years and got to No. 1 in the country and it turned out to be the best thing ever. Then the job opened up again and Gene Bleymaier called and we talked and they brought me over and offered me the position.”
In 32 years as a head coach you’ve only had three losing seasons, and they all came in a row from 2010-2013 while at Boise State. What happened during that stretch?
“That was the roughest period of my life. We were having some personal problems. I am an only child and both my parents, it was like winning the lottery the opposite way unfortunately, they both got Parkinson’s disease and my wife and I were the caretakers. My dad passed away and then in that three-year period my mom got real sick and I was burning the candle at both ends. Gene had asked and we talked about doing a sabbatical for a year in there and I decided not to, and looking back I probably should have. And we switched leagues from the WAC to the Mountain West and that was a tough adjustment. Long story short, my mom passed away and then we were able to focus a little more on what we were doing here and was able to get this thing rolling a little bit.”
The team went 12-34 in conference games those three seasons. Were you ever worried about losing your job during that stretch?
“My bosses knew what was going on. It was New Year’s Eve and I had put my mom to bed around 10 p.m. and I went to bed and I got a knock on the door about 1 a.m. and she had gone into two different houses. She got Dementia with the Parkinson’s disease and it just rocked my world and changed my life. It was a real rough period, but Mark Coyle (new athletic director at the time) came to me and said ‘no matter what happens you’re our coach. You are who we want here and don’t ever worry about losing your job.’ And that gave me some confidence. And then when Deanna Weaver transferred in things changed and we’ve been off to the races ever since. I’m very blessed and thankful for Gene Bleymaier and Christina Van Tol for always being in my corner during that time.”
You’ve been a head coach for 32 years. You just finished your 14th season at Boise State. How many more years do you see yourself doing this?
“Probably another seven years at least. We’ll just see how it goes. I really enjoy being here and the community. I just want to knock on that door so bad and get into that tournament and win a game. The hardest part that most people don’t realize is there’s a pretty fine line. You have to win. At Oregon State you can get fourth or fifth in your conference and make the tournament. We have to get first. That’s hard. The football team has to practically go undefeated every year. That fine line is a pressure that other programs across the country don’t get. I like that pressure.”