Coach P: Duke's Women's Basketball Coach
By Cydney Livingston
Let’s talk about Coach P for a minute, not Coach K.
A quick Google search could tell you that she is the only Parade All-American Player to come out of her home state of Maine… and that she was named an All-Big Ten honorable mention and an Academic All-Big Ten First-Team member during her career at Northwestern…and that she has accumulated a 302-80 overall record at Duke in only 11 years, led our girls’ varsity basketball team to four straight Elite Eight appearances, four consecutive ACC regular season titles, three ACC championships, and…well, you get the point. A quick google search could provide you with the ins-and-outs of Coach Joanne P. McCallie’s impeccable career in women’s collegiate basketball but would neglect to tell you about the adversities of her journey to this point and about the impacts she has left on her trail. This deeper insight was something I was fortunate enough to gain through an interview with her.
At the mere age of 26, Joanne McCallie entered her first head coaching position at the collegiate level at the University of Maine after leaving her spot as an assistant coach at Auburn. Coach P started out at Maine earning less than most assistant coaches do today – although by no means are the standards for pay between men and women’s athletics nearly equal in today’s world. Over an 8-year period she was able to more than double her salary from under the lines of 50K to nearly 100K a year through success as a coach and numerous outside job offers from other colleges causing an upward drive on her value. This is no small feat and is certainly nothing to scoff at. It is crucial to realize that women must go above and beyond to fight for gender equity in addition to striving to uphold success as a coach. Coach P told me that through continuous dedication and commitment to change, she was also able to set a new and significantly improved standard for the budget of assistant coaches’ salaries, as well as snag a contract with Nike for equipment and apparel. Coach McCallie’s narrative at Maine is not singular but is rather an exemplification of the battles female coaches and athletes must fight off the playing field.
In her next position at Michigan State, she was listened to upon being hired and gifted all her requests. Women’s basketball was regarded in the same light as men’s and Coach P didn’t have to fight as hard to even the playing field. However, the team was at the bottom of the Big 10 conference and within 5 years Coach P was able to lead them to play for the national championship and pushed a fan base of approximately 900 people per game to 17,000 at highest attendance. So maybe respect and regard for women’s athletics and women’s basketball is not always so disproportionate when compared to men’s, but even in the best of circumstances it seems that female-athletes can never fully amount to similarly or even less qualified male-athletes in the eyes of many. What is it that makes men’s teams so much more popular? Do we still hold so closely to our gender normative roots in which men are automatically defined as naturally stronger, naturally more able, naturally better? It is often a fight to get people involved with and interested in women’s athletic teams and events, whereas men’s programs come with automatic fan bases, donors, and hype – yet another battle along the road to success.
And then finally Coach P comes to us. McCallie says that this job is the ultimate challenge and the ultimate opportunity for her and was a position she always kept in the back of her mind with the fear that the spot would never become available. She faced challenge early on at Duke with the addition of three new powerhouse teams to the conference but has been resilient and persistent in her efforts with the team. Of course, her record here is quite impressive, but I am equally as intrigued by her efforts to reach out to Duke players, coaches, and staff of the past. Along with her support system, Coach P is working to recognize all that the collective alums have done for Duke women’s basketball, over the years and to connect the dots throughout history to show the progression of the program. I think that perhaps without even realizing it McCallie is partaking in action and remembrance that is crucial to show the importance of women in athletics, how far we’ve come, and also how much farther representation and acknowledgment for the greats of women’s sports can be taken.
Although Coach P told me she’s never seen the gender in the sport and she’s always only ever seen basketball as basketball, our society does not view it this way. The impeccable power, the relentless drive, the lifetimes of commitment, the unbelievable talent, and the triumph over confounding struggles in athletics often go without recognition or proper praise when the athlete is female. And the same can be said of our female coaches. This is a disappointment that I have personally felt and that I am confident thousands of other women in athletics have felt too.
For Coach P, sports are not a business, but they are the practice of developing people – it is the mentoring, the teaching, and the influence that she loves. With this sentiment I must agree: Sports are more than just a game and women’s representation and impact in them deserves much more than what it’s been getting.
So enough about the Coach Ks; let’s talk about the Coach Ps instead.