Though it may be hard to remember considering its current 14-game losing streak and winless conference record, the CSU women’s basketball team hasn’t always been this bad.
When Tom Collen left the University of Arkansas to take over the CSU program in 1997, he led the Rams to five consecutive postseasons, including four trips to the NCAA Tournament (129-33 record at CSU).
And after Collen’s 2002 departure for Vanderbilt, Chris Denker came to Fort Collins from Santa Clara and took the Rams to two consecutive NIT appearances (58-38 record).
But after a 15-13 season in 2004-05, with allegations of mistreating players, Denker resigned and former athletic director Mark Driscoll headed, what looked to be, an impromptu search committee to find a replacement.
“In this situation, the sooner the better,” Driscoll said back in 2005.
The committee found Boise State head coach, and Denver native, Jen Warden.
In three seasons at the helm of the CSU women’s basketball program, Warden has coached 81 games, winning only 19 of them. In 42 conference games, Warden’s teams have emerged victorious five times. One Mountain West Conference Tournament victory, zero wins against Denver, Wyoming, Utah, BYU, TCU, UNLV and New Mexico and two exhibition losses at Moby Arena to Metro State are all part of the struggles for the Rams under Warden.
In the eyes of many spectators, a desire for CSU to start riding the coaching carousel in April has grown.
In multiple games this season, fans have booed Warden’s introduction as if she were Isaiah Thomas in Madison Square Garden, and rarely does attendance stay for a game’s entirety.
“Obviously everyone wants to see the program do better and nobody’s more frustrated than coach Warden at this point,” CSU athletic director Paul Kowalczyk said. “It’s something she and the staff are working hard to improve, but we just haven’t been able to get over the hump at this point.”
The difficult situation Warden faces now could not have been foreseen by many.
With a promising first season, which included wins over CU-Boulder, UNC-Greeley, Texas-San Antonio and a MWC Tournament win over San Diego State, the future looked bright. However, last season’s incident involving four players getting suspended for allegedly detonating a homemade bomb outside the home of a teammate as a practical joke made the program take a step backward.
“This is like (Warden’s) third first year. Your first year you come in and find out what your team is all about, there’s usually transition there. Last year there was the bombing incident and that was very a difficult situation for everyone involved and unfortunately some of our players decided to leave the program,” Kowalczyk said,
This season the Rams brought eight new players to the floor-four junior college transfers and four freshmen. With Sara Hunter and Juanise Cornell being the only two returning members on the roster with significant playing time, it is almost unfair to scrutinize Warden’s tenure at CSU.
“It hasn’t been easy. There have been times when I’ve wanted to rip people’s heads off because you are so frustrated,” Cornell said. “We are going to be at the top of our conference. It might not be this year, but eventually we are going to be here.”
While Cornell’s assurances may seem far-fetched for some, Kowalczyk has faith in Warden and denies a rumor that assistant coach Dick Lien will be promoted to head coach on an interim or contractual basis.
“Everybody’s always looking for a quick fix and instant gratification, and that’s difficult when you’re trying to build programs.” Kowalczyk said. “Coach Warden is on the third year of a five year program and we’re not about to bail on her at this point.”
Sports writer Matt L. Stephens can be reached at email@example.com.