When women’s basketball legend Muffet McGraw coached at Lehigh 33 years ago, she didn’t realize the impact her decorated career would have on and off the court.
McGraw may be stepping down from coaching, but her journey is far from over.
After McGraw led the Fighting Irish to a second National Championship win in 2018 and sent all five starters to the WNBA in 2019, people started to question how much longer she would coach. Including herself.
“I’m taking it one year at a time,” McGraw said. “Every year I reevaluate. This year it was a different year than we’ve had, and I think I did look at almost every game like, ‘This might be my last ACC tournament.’”
McGraw said the pandemic reinforced her decision to retire. She planned to wait until her players came back so she could tell them in person, but, due to COVID-19, that was not feasible.
“I didn’t tell anyone,” McGraw said. “And then, as the weeks went on, I said this is a great opportunity for me to live with it — maybe I don’t want to retire. I had a chance for, really, almost a month to have in my head how it would feel getting up every day and not going to work, not practicing, not recruiting, not working with the team. I enjoyed the time I had. I felt like I knew I had made the right decision. Everybody doesn’t get to do that. I was lucky that I got to make that decision when I wanted to go and to realize it was the best one that I could make.”
McGraw said she told her team the news through a Zoom meeting. Five minutes later, her former players were being introduced to their new head coach, Niele Ivey, a former player and assistant coach of McGraw.
Ivey was a coach for the Memphis Grizzlies this past season.
Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame coach, two-time National Championship winner, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and Lehigh Hall of Fame inductee are only a few of the accolades McGraw achieved while coaching.
If she had to choose the most important accolade, she said it would be the 2018 National Championship game when she had about 40 former players in attendance who all came down to the court after the win for a picture.
“It’s sort of a culmination of all my years,” McGraw said. “And, when I look at that picture, I see women from my very first class that graduated in the early ’90s all the way through, (and I know) that they’re a family. My legacy is looking at those women and knowing those are the lives that I’ve touched.”
McGraw ended her coaching career with an overall record of 936-292, going down as one the greatest coaches basketball has ever seen.
When she looks back on all those wins, McGraw said getting her 900th win against Lehigh was one of her favorite memories.
“It was just so amazing that could possibly happen on that very day and to have them celebrating with me…It was crazy that could happen,” McGraw said.
Not only is McGraw a role model on the court, but she is also a voice and a role model for women in sports off the court.
McGraw said it means a lot to her that she is an influence to women, and it’s something she wants to continue to do.
“Women in leadership, we have so much great potential, but sometimes we don’t even see it in ourselves,” McGraw said. ”I think everybody can start with themselves. Be a little more confident, speak up a little bit more, and respect women, help other women and empower other women because we can be our own worst enemy sometimes. “
McGraw said she will miss the rivalry with the University of Connecticut more than anything, but her retirement doesn’t mean she’s going to stop supporting her team.
She will still attend the games, albeit as a face in the crowd, but she will be the team’s biggest cheerleader, she said.
McGraw said the advice she would give to her younger self would be to speak up.
“I think that women think that they have to earn the right to speak,” McGraw said. “Or they think when I’m successful, when I have proved myself. That is wrong to think that way. I think that we need to be more confident. I wish that I had the confidence that I have now to speak up more.”
She said her biggest fear about retirement was that she wouldn’t know when to leave.
“I think a lot of people look and say, ‘I don’t want to retire because I don’t know what I want to do next,’” McGraw said. “I always thought about that, too, like what would I do next. And then, after my speech at the Final Four talking about women, it’s like it opened up a whole new area of opportunities for me to speak to women.”