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At CMU, Gail Goestenkors replaces her ex-husband — who recommended her for the job

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Of all the ties Gail Goestenkors still has in Michigan — her mom and dad live in White Lake, a brother lives in Waterford, a brother and a sister live in Lake Orion, and her best friend from junior high lives in Petoskey, and that's to say nothing of her long-time friend, Sue Guevara — here's who actually got the ball rolling on her arrival at Central Michigan.

Her ex-husband. Yep. Seriously.

Gail Goestenkors

When Mark Simons quietly retired earlier this summer from Central Michigan after more than three decades as a college basketball coach — including stints at Michigan State and Georgia Tech — one of his first calls he made was to his ex-wife, Goestenkors.

"We're still really good friends," Goestenkors, the legendary women's college basketball coach who led Duke and Texas to a combined 18 NCAA Tournaments, told The News on Monday.

"He had texted me and said, 'I'm gonna resign and wanted to let you know,' so I called him and he talked and he was great. The next morning, I thought, gosh, I think I'd really be interested in that job."

Goestenkors was officially named Central Michigan women's associate head coach Monday, after news started leaking over the weekend.

She provides second-year coach Heather Oesterle a veteran sounding board on a staff of relative youngsters. She will earn between $80,000 and $90,000.

This marks Goestenkors' return to college basketball coaching. A Waterford native and Saginaw Valley State alum, Goestenkors, 57, was head coach at Duke from 1992-2007, making 15 NCAA Tournaments, including two national runner-up showings, and led Texas from 2007-12.

"I was kind of panicking, because Mark retired and it was August already, and then I got a text from Coach G," said Oesterle, who succeeded legendary Central Michigan coach Sue Guevera, who remains a strong presence around the program. "She was saying, 'You'll never guess who's interested.'

"She told me it was Gail. Gail and I talked 30 minutes later, and I didn't stop smiling the entire day."

Since leaving the college game in 2012, Goestenkors spent two years as an assistant in the WNBA, first with the Los Angeles Sparks, then with the Indiana Fever. She's also been an assistant coach on two Team USA gold-medal Olympics teams.

She also co-founded a consulting group, Coaching Full Circle, whom Guevera — who was an assistant coach at Saginaw Valley State back when Goestenkors was the point guard — hired to assess CMU.

So Goestenkors has been no stranger to Central Michigan, particularly in recent years.

"She knows our program, she knows Heather, she's seen Heather work on the floor," said Guevera, who while on her pontoon boat in West Michigan last week FaceTimed with Goestenkors to welcome her to the Chippewas family. (Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins, also on the boat, got in on the call, too.) "I just think she's gonna be a great mentor ... a tremendous, tremendous asset to the program.

"She's developed All-Americans, she's helped develop WNBA players, she knows what it takes.

"A proven winner going to a winning program."

Goestenkors and Oesterle already have talked about possible roles. Oesterle is interested in running a new offense, and wants Goestenkors involved there. She will work with the post players, and she'll oversee baseline and sideline plays — an area where the team struggled last season.

And, of course, Goestenkors will be a significant asset on the recruiting trail.

Central Michigan's stock has risen big-time in recent years, with back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2018 and 2019, including the Sweet 16 run in 2018. The Chippewas won the regular-season Mid-American Conference championship in 2020, Oesterle's first year as head coach, and while they lost in their first MAC tournament game, an at-large NCAA Tournament bid seemed likely. The NCAA bid was then guaranteed when the MAC tournament was canceled (reverting the auto bid to the regular-season champ) amid COVID-19, but then the NCAA Tournament was canceled.

COVID-19 issues pending, Central Michigan will be a favorite to get back to the Big Dance this year, with all starters returning, and another solid recruiting class — the latest in what should be a long string of them.

"Her resume speaks for itself," Oesterle said of Goestenkors, who was a seven-time ACC coach of the year and a two-time national coach of the year. 

Goestenkors said she started thinking about returning to college coaching a couple summers ago, and at first, she was focused on head-coaching positions. But there were no openings that were fits.

This year, she started thinking maybe she should go the assistant-coaching route — to get her "feet wet" again. She last was a college assistant from 1986-92, at Purdue, and Iowa State before that, 1985-86.

Then, Joanne P. McCallie, Duke's long-time head coach who actually left Michigan State to take over for Goestenkors in 2007, suddenly stepped down from the job. And Goestenkors got to thinking maybe there'd bit a fit for a reunion. But ultimately, she never got an interview, which she acknowledged was a disappointment. Then again, she thought, it's tough to go home again.

Except, at Central Michigan, she's doing just that, just in a different way.

"It's one of the most fun and exciting teams to watch in the country, and I've watched a lot of basketball," said Goestenkors, who's been a sounding board for Guevera, and vice-versa, throughout their lengthy coaching careers. "I can tell you, their practices are run as well if not better than 99.9% of practices.

"I trusted Heather, and I felt like she trusted me, as well. And I think that's really important."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984