AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Just about a year ago, Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw laid down a marker during a women's Final Four news conference. She vowed never again to hire a man as an assistant coach.
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MUFFET MCGRAW: All these millions of girls that play sports across the country, they could come out every day - and we're teaching them great things about life skills. But wouldn't it be great if we could teach them to watch how women lead?
CHANG: Well, teaching and leading young women athletes is just what this Hall of Famer has spent the last 33 years doing. Along the way, there were 848 Fighting Irish victories. That included 67 NCAA tournament games and two NCAA championships, like this one in 2018 against Mississippi.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Arike Ogunbowale wins the national championship for Notre Dame.
CHANG: And earlier this week, Muffet McGraw announced that she is stepping down. She joins me now.
MCGRAW: Hello. Thank you.
CHANG: Thank you for joining us. So you made this huge decision this week. Tell me why it felt right after 33 years.
MCGRAW: You know, I think that's the thing about retiring. Everybody wants to know what's the magic answer and how did you know. And a few people told me that, you know what? Sometimes you wake up one day, and you go, I'm done. And it wasn't quite that quick, but I've been on a one-year plan with myself. Every season, I look at - we won the championship. Are you going to come back next year? Yeah, I think I have one more year. And then we get to the championship game. Yeah, I think I have one more year. And then this year, I kind of looked back and thought, you know, I'm - I think I have the program where I want it to be, and I'm ready for somebody else to take over. I'm ready to do something new. I really wanted a new challenge. I've gotten a little more active in the community and talking about women and things that you just mentioned. And I'm really enjoying that role, and I'd like to spend more time doing it.
CHANG: I mean, I have to ask, did this pandemic have anything to do with accelerating your decision to retire now that basically all sports are at a standstill?
MCGRAW: You know, it did in a way. I think I was decided - I had made my decision after the season. You don't want to make a decision right after the season, so I was definitely leaning towards retiring. And then what happened during the pandemic was I had a great opportunity to pretend I was retired for a month with no one knowing it and deciding if I was going to be able to live with it or not.
MCGRAW: So I would say it reinforced my decision. And...
MCGRAW: ...You know, it was funny because I was like, wow, so this is what retirement - although I will be able to at least leave the house when I'm retired...
MCGRAW: ...Which I'm not doing much of right now.
CHANG: Me neither. Well, over the three decades that you coached at Notre Dame, what changes in your sport strike you as the most important?
MCGRAW: Well, I think our game has come a long way. I think the level that we're playing at is a very high level of basketball. The fan attendance has grown. Unfortunately, the media attention has not. We still get about 4% of media attention. When Title IX was passed in the early '70s and said men's and women's sports should be equal, we had about - 90% of our coaches were female. And now, 30 years later, we're looking at 60% of our coaches are men. And, of course, all of the coaches in men's basketball are also men.
So I would like to see more women in coaching, certainly in head coaching positions but also as assistant coaches. I'd like to see that diversity because I think this is where kids are looking up and seeing, I have a chance to be a head coach. And so you want them to see women on TV. And unfortunately, you know, we're on TV, but we don't get the same attention as the men's conference tournaments and the NCAA men do.
CHANG: Well, speaking of women leading, you just heard us play a clip from that news conference last year that got a lot of attention, attention you said you were surprised to get. And now your successor is a woman - in fact, a woman you coached, a woman you worked next to. What advice have you given her?
MCGRAW: Well, I think the biggest thing is to be yourself. I think believe in yourself because as women, we tend to overthink things. We question ourselves a little bit more than men do. We don't exude that confidence that men seem to just have. We're team players. You know, we're very loyal. We're always asking for input. We're good listeners. And sometimes it's hard for women to stand up and take charge.
And so I've really helped her to just use her voice - this is the direction I want to go in - to not be afraid and to know that people are going to criticize you no matter what you do, so you really are better off doing what you think is best. And, of course, you're going to get input from your staff and from different people, and you're going to continue to be mentored and to grow and to listen to other people. But I think your vision, your plan, that's the one that I want her to follow.
CHANG: Words a lot of us can heed right now. When you look back on the three decades and change that you've spent coaching basketball, I guess, like, how do you want to be remembered by your players and by all the Notre Dame fans out there?
MCGRAW: I think for sure as someone who did things the right way and a person who integrity matters to, that I represented Notre Dame in a way that makes our university and our fans proud and our alumni proud, and just that I think that the success that we have, that women can succeed. We used to be a football school, and now I'd like to be able to think we're a little bit of a women's basketball school, too, so to bring that kind of attention to us.
CHANG: Muffet McGraw has coached basketball at the University of Notre Dame for 33 years. She announced this week that she is stepping down from coaching.
Muffet McGraw, thank you so much for talking to us.
MCGRAW: Alisa, it's been a pleasure. Thank you for having me on.
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