Muffet McGraw has put down her whistle. Her recent retirement after 38 seasons as a collegiate head coach brought down the curtain on a remarkable career, one that included 936 victories and two national championships.
The 64-year old McGraw will be remembered not only as one of the greatest coaches in the history of women’s basketball but one of the game’s most significant figures. Her time in the game began when Women’s basketball was regarded by many as a second-tier sport and extended into today’s modern era.?She was both a pioneer and a visionary.
Ann “Muffet’ McGraw (nee O’Brien) grew up near Philadelphia in the 1960s and early 70s, when the area was legitimately considered the cradle of girl’s and women’s basketball.
It was a time of tremendous change; McGraw was a student at Bishop Shanahan High School when the state of Pennsylvania switched to five-on-five basketball for girls.
The four years she played basketball at what was then St. Joseph’s College was the first four the school had a Women’s basketball team; for much of its history, St. Joseph’s was an all-male institution. The NCAA was not involved in women’s athletics at that point, women’s sports at the collegiate level were under the auspices of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW).
In McGraw’s final collegiate season, 1976-77 she was the point guard on a St. Joseph’s team that concluded the regular season with a 19-2 record before heading to the EAIAW tournament at Temple University. The field featured 16 teams, along with a number of coaches who would become some of the most revered figures in the sport among them Rene Portland, who was coaching St. Joseph’s at the time, Theresa Shank Grentz (Rutgers) and C. Vivian Stringer (Cheyney State).
St Joseph’s reached the regional final before losing a one-point game to Immaculata, then went on to finish sixth at the AIAW national tournament.
McGraw played one season in the WPBL before launching her coaching career. She spent two years as a high school coach and two more as an assistant at her alma mater before being named the head coach at Lehigh, where her teams won 88 games in five seasons. From there it was on to Notre Dame, at a time when Women’s basketball was in a state of transition as a result of Title IX. The Immaculatas, the Delta States, and the Wayland Baptists, which had been among the sport’s elite in years past were being supplanted by larger institutions with an abundance of athletic scholarships to hand out.
In McGraw’s first season, the Fighting Irish won 20 games and McGraw earned Coach of the Year honors in the North Star Conference. The following season, they competed in the Midwest Collegiate Conference (which eventually became the Horizon League) and later on the Big East and the ACC. Through it all, the wins kept coming, 936 of them all told, along, which led to nine trips to the Final Four, seven of those to the championship game, and two national titles, in 2001 and 2018.
She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Famed in 2011 and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.
McGraw has also been a tireless advocate for the advancement of women within the coaching profession. As of the close of the 2019 season, approximately 63 percent of NCAA Division I head coaches were women (See Below).
McGraw leaves the Notre Dame program in very capable hands; she will be succeeded by her former Associate Head Coach Niele Ivey, who played for her at Notre Dame and was most recently an assistant coach with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.
Don’t expect Muffet McGraw to fade quietly away. If she chooses, she will be a respected voice in the game for as long as she wishes. She is cognizant of not only where the women’s game has gone, but of the sweat and toil it took to get there.