Starkey, already 3rd in wins as KSU coach, gets four-year extension

Starkey and bench

Kent State women’s coach Todd Starkey talking to his team last season. (Photo from team Twitter feed.)

This is a slightly updated version of the story I posted yesterday with better editing and a better headline.

Coach Todd Starkey has received a four-year contract extension, the university announced today.

The new contract will run through the 2022-2023. The coach’s existing contract, signed when he was hired in April 2016, had two years left to go. No details on the new contract were mentioned in the Kent State announcement. Starkey has a 52-44 record in his three years at Kent State. He already has won the third-most games of any KSU women’s coach.

In 2016, Starkey took over a team that had gone 6-23 the years before and, with the same roster, won KSU’s first MAC East title in 13 years, finishing third on the conference overall. He was the league’s coach of the year. The team went 19-13 (13-5 in the MAC), made the WNIT and jumped 222 spots in the RPI rankings from the previous year.

The Flashes went 13-19 in Starkey’s second season.

Last season the Flashes went 20-13, finishing fifth in the MAC and fourth in the MAC East. They beat Green Bay in the first round of the WNIT, Kent State’s first WNIT win and first postseason victory in 23 years. It was the team’s first 20-win season since 2010-11.

Starkey’s team did that with two freshman starters and two other freshmen in the team’s eight-player rotation. (That freshman class was the coach’s first true recruiting class. His first class was put together in just three months after he arrived.)

This year’s team returns 87 percent of its scoring. Its three incoming freshman includes a first-team all-state forward from Kentucky and two second-team all-state guards from Ohio. A 6-4 transfer from Indiana, who was an all-stater in Georgia, will sit out this season because of NCAA transfer rules.

Under Starkey, the team has had two academic All-Americans (2018 grad Jordan Korinek twice and Larissa Lurken in 2017) and had a team GPA of 3.458 in the spring.

Quotes from the press release (these never sound like real people talking and often are written by the sports communication office:

STARKEY: “I want to thank President (Beverly) Warren, President-elect (Todd) Diacon, (Athletic Director) Joel Nielsen and (Associate Athletic Director Casey Cegles for their continued support of Kent State women’s basketball and confidence in our ability to lead the program going forward. This extension reflects the strong commitment to winning that this staff and group of student-athletes has displayed over the last few years. We are very excited about our future at Kent State and look forward to pursuing MAC championships in the years to come.”

On Twitter, Starkey wrote in a comment on the announcement: “Thank you to our staff, current and former players, and our fans! Excited for what is to come…GO FLASHES!!!” He added four lightning bolts emojis.

NIELSEN: “It’s very exciting news that Todd will continue to lead our women’s basketball program. In only three years at Kent State, he has won a MAC East Division title, led his team to the first WNIT victory in program history and had three Academic All-America selections. Todd and his staff have proven that they are capable of recruiting quality student-athletes, and we’re confident in his ability to bring championships to Kent State women’s basketball.”

In 24 hours, the Twitter announcement of Starkey’s new contract had 195 Likes, 25  Retweets and 12 congratulatory comments. More — including notes from his assistants and Cegles, who led the search that hired him — were scattered elsewhere.

Before he came to Kent State, Starkey was an assistant at Indiana and head coach at Divsion II Lenoir-Rhyne in North Carolina, where he was national Division II coach of the year in 2009. Starkey grew up in suburban Youngstown; his father was a music professor at Youngstown State.

Link to press release.

Starkey’s biography on the KSU website.

WbbFlashes wrap-up of 2018-19 season and preview of 2019-20 season.

Commentary: Well-deserved extension adds stability for fans, recruits, program

The announcement of Starkey’s contract extension is not unexpected but most welcome. 

A relatively new and successful coach often gets one at this point in his tenure.

Starkey has done more in three years than we could have dreamed of when he was hired in 2016.

The program was in a mess when the he came to Kent. The Flashes had gone 21-98 in four years under Danny O’Banion, never winning more than seven games or finishing higher than fifth in the six-team MAC East. The year before O’Banion was hired, Bob Lindsay, who had won more games than any MAC coach in either men’s or women’s basketball, was let go after a 6-21 season (his worst record since his first season).

Many of the 2016 players had talked among themselves about transferring. 

Then, in an astonishing season, Starkey took exactly the same roster and went 19-13, winning the MAC East. Senior Larissa Lurken, who was the team’s second-best player the year before, became the best player in the MAC. It was a completely different team.

Much of that was coaching. Starkey is an excellent “X’s and O’s” — or game strategy — coach. His teams are well-prepared and mid-game adjustments are effective. He also taught his players to win. He had some good fortune — his players were better than their record the previous year, and they were able to gain confidence with some early success. By the end of the season, they expected to win.

Starkey went through his first two season with none of his “own” players. One of his recruits never started until the 2019-20 season. His first recruiting class was put together in three months, well after most high school players had committed to a school or at least narrowed their options. On paper, the class looked as if it had potential. But only one of those players is still on the roster, and she was about 10th in the rotation last season.

Starkey’s first real class — last year’s freshmen — was one of the best in school history. He says the incoming freshmen may be just as good. His first recruit for 2021 is a two-time first-stater and two-time district player of the year — before she starts her senior year.

Everything I’ve seen says Starkey is a very good person, too. He’s always been good to me, only occasionally grumping when I ask a dumb question. He’s very accessible and quotable, which every reporter hopes for from a source.

I’ve enjoyed watching the half dozen practices I’ve seen. He is a teaching coach. He will stop a drill to walk on the court and show players what they should be doing right. Some coaches just tell people what they’re doing wrong. (Starkey can be tough; I was at one practice when the team ran full-court sprints for the last 10 minutes of practice because, he told them, their effort hadn’t earned them the right to scrimmage.)

It’s clear his players like him. They smile when they talk about him. He’s had six players leave the team, but none of them had much playing time. That’s pretty standard these days. It’s when you lose current or potential significant contributors when you should worry.

He and his staff certainly like each other. One of the things that go less noticed in a team’s success is its assistants, and one of the things this staff has going for it is stability. Associate head coach Fran Recchia and assistant Morgan Toles have been with Starkey since the beginning. Assistant Mike McKee joined the staff after Starkey’s first season; one assistant had left in the middle of that first year, which makes the team’s success even more remarkable.

Starkey got new titles and raises for the assistants last season. When a coach gets a new contract, he often negotiates more money for his assistants; I hope he was able to. Kent State has a reputation for underpaying assistants in almost all sports.

So are we set for a coach for four years? Well, not quite.

Remember Buffalo men’s coach Nate Oats signed an extension with the Bulls in March, then left for Alabama two weeks later (and probably got a raise approaching a million dollars). (]’ve always suspected the extension was mostly to get Buffalo a big buyout; Alabama paid a reported $750,000 to hire him away.)

If Indiana were to contact Starkey tomorrow (it won’t —its coach is successful and established), I’m sure Starkey would take the call. He might tell them, “No, thank you.” And as I said in a post a few weeks ago, all sorts of things have to fall into place for a coach to move up to a Power Five job.

So as I wrote then, let’s enjoy a good team and good coach. We’re better off now than we were 24 hours ago. The contract extension shows fans, current players and recruits a university commitment and a commitment by him — even if it’s not ironclad.

Now Starkey and his team can concentrate attention to the most important things — preparing for the upcoming season and find more Flashes.


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