The Marquette women’s basketball coaching staff is going through another change. Three weeks after it was announced that assistant coach Scott Merritt was moving on to Illinois, we now know a new destination for assistant coach Vernette Skeete. In something of a wild coincidence, Skeete will be joining Merritt on the Fighting Illini sideline for the 2020-21 season as an assistant to Illinois head coach Nancy Fahey.
Skeete was hired by then-head coach Carolyn Kieger to be a part of her first staff at Marquette back in 2014. When Kieger moved on to Penn State in 2019, new MU head coach Megan Duffy retained both Merritt and Skeete on her first staff at Marquette.
While I don’t know the specifics of any conversations and/or agreements between Megan Duffy and either Skeete or Merritt, their departures after one season with the new head coach aren’t terribly surprising. It was somewhat surprising when Duffy retained both of them from Kieger’s staff, but the obvious front facing logic of it is why their departure now isn’t surprising. Marquette had six freshmen coming in that Skeete and Merritt helped recruit and sign for Carolyn Kieger. Duffy was going to need several of those freshmen to play big roles on her first team at Marquette with just five players returning from 2018-19. Keeping Skeete and Merritt on board after Ginny Boggess followed Kieger to Penn State helped Duffy pave the way towards a soft landing spot for the incoming freshmen with the coaching change. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that Skeete and Merritt are leaving after one year under Duffy. Assistant coaching can sometimes be a volatile job market anyway, and the fact that they were at Marquette for six seasons was somewhat surprising anyway, and with Duffy set up and running, they were free to pursue new opportunities if they so desired.
Of course, we do have questions to ask about what is going on down at Illinois where they needed two assistant coaches, much less that they hired them both off the same staff in Milwaukee. Fahey had been in the same situation as Duffy with both LaKale Malone and Tianna Kirkland in that she had retained both women from the previous staff. According to the Champaign News-Gazette, Fahey has relieved Malone of her duties as assistant coach, which opened up the spot for Merritt. The press release for Skeete’s addition to the Illinois staff also explains that she is taking Kirkland’s spot on the sideline, with the Ferris State alum transitioning to a support staff position with the women’s basketball team. That’s a lot of changes in a short amount of time following Fahey’s third season and a cumulative record of 30-58 with just four wins in Big Ten play. However, Fahey also picked up a contract extension in early April, so she does have the job security to make moves to try and improve her situation. Marquette’s success under Kieger after a complete restart between years #1 and #2 as well as MU’s 24-8 mark in Duffy’s first season shines a very positive light on Skeete and Merritt, so you can see why Fahey would be interested in both.
And so Megan Duffy plunges head long back into the assistant coach hiring market. To replace Merritt, Duffy went with Itoro Coleman. To give you an idea of what Duffy was looking for there, Coleman was hired as the head coach at Clemson the year after Duffy was hired at St. John’s for her first assistant coaching job. Coleman’s experience on the coaching and recruiting circuits provides a balance between Duffy, who is on her second stop as a head coach and just finished her third season in a top job, and Justine Raterman, who graduated from Dayton in 2012 and only just finished her second season as an assistant coach.
There’s not an obvious hole in Duffy’s staff from an experience standpoint. I think it is worth noting here that in the week-plus timeframe since Coleman was hired, Megan Duffy had the only all-woman four person coaching staff in the Big East. It’s a short list for competition there, as Xavier’s Melanie Moore was the only other woman as head coach in the league, and Denise Dixon was just hired to replace Harry Perretta at Villanova. A glance at both roster pages indicates that Xavier is looking to hire two assistants and may end up with four women on staff while Dixon appears to be keeping Joe Mullaney on staff as associate head coach. I’m not going to make the same overture to Duffy about hiring women to coach women that I did to athletic director Bill Scholl about a year ago. But, for a week there, MU had the only all-female basketball staff in the Big East, and that was pretty cool. It would be cool to see it continue.