As reported by most everybody today, Mississippi State women's basketball coach Sharon Fanning-Otis has decided to hang up the whistle at the end of the season. The timing seems interesting, and I wonder if she did not take on somewhat of a project year to insulate a person that she might want to have as the next coach. Of course, that is just speculation. What follows is not speculation, but a recap of her tenure in Starkville.
Since coming to Starkville for the start of the 1995-1996 season, Fanning-Otis has seen many other coaches come and go: Richard Williams, Ron Polk (twice), Jackie Sherrill, Pat McMahon, and Sylvester Croom to name a few. Like her counterpart, Rick Stansbury, Fanning-Otis has managed to take her team to the post season more often than not, and she has taken her program further than it has ever gone before, reaching the Sweet 16 in 2010.
It may not be fair to say that women's basketball was a bit of wasteland at Mississippi State before Fanning-Otis came to town from Kentucky, but the assessment is not far from the truth. Before she arrived in Starkville, the team had never accomplished a 20-win season. In her 17 years at the helm, the Lady Bulldogs turned the trick four times: 1999-2000 (24-8), 2002-2003 (24-8), 2008-2009 (23-10), 2009-2010 (21-12).
Fanning-Otis only suffered six losing seasons in Starkville. The first three came during her first three years on the job, when her squad finished a combined seven games under the .500 mark. To be fair, her 1997-1998 squad finished the regular season at 14-14, and they dropped to a losing record with a first round lost in the WNIT.
The 1998-1999 season began the turnaround of the program. The Lady Bulldogs finished 17-11, and they reached the NCAA tournament. The Lady Bulldogs qualified for postseason play in nine of the 12 following seasons.
Perhaps most amazing about Fanning-Otis is that she coached at three schools, leaving each with a winning record. She only spent one season as a grad assistant before becoming the head coach at UT-Chattanooga, where she also served as volleyball coach. She guided the Lady Mocs to five consecutive Southern Conference championships before moving on to Kentucky, where she guided the Lady Wildcats to the 1990 WNIT title.
At Mississippi State, Fanning-Otis received the 2000 SEC Coach of the Year Award.