WKU AD Ross Bjork discusses hire of Michelle Clark-Heard

Clarification: I reported in my initial post that Ross Bjork interviewed new Ole Miss women’s basketball coach Adrian Wiggins in Bowling Green for WKU’s vacancy.

WKU asked to clarify that Bjork interviewed Wiggins in Bowling Green, but solely for the Ole Miss opening.


BGDN writer Chad Bishop had a length discussion with outgoing Western Kentucky athletic director Ross Bjork that you can read more of on his blog at toppatime.wordpress.com and at bgdailynews.com

But Chad also passed along Bjork’s comments on newly hired WKU women’s basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard.

Here is what Bjork had to say about Michelle Clark-Heard:

“You know what? She was the first interview that we had. We met with her the Saturday after we made the change, Todd (Stewart) and I did. I walked out of there going, ‘She could be our next head coach.’ Knowing that we had a process and knowing there’s other people we had to talk to, but I said, ‘She’s got the energy, she’s got the passion, she’s got the recruiting contacts, she obviously has the legacy here with this program at a high level, she’s been at a high-level program at Louisville so she saw what it takes.’
“I think she’ll just work extremely hard and get the program back to where it should be. I was really pleased. I was part of the process really up to (March 20), then I had to step out. That was great hire, that was my choice as well, my vote, if I had a vote, was Michelle and I think it’s a great hire for the program.”

Breaking down Michelle Clark-Heard’s contract

I discussed some of the details of new WKU women’s basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard’s contract Thursday on Twitter and in my stories for the Daily News, but I wanted to get into it a little more here.

Here’s a look at some of the specifics:

Michelle Clark-Heard

  • Base salary of $150,000, plus eligible benefits
  • Annual incentive bonuses
    – APR of 940+ each academic year = 5% of base salary
    – In addition, APR of 960+ each academic year = 5% of base salary
    – 1,500 public season tickets sold (first time mark is met) = 5% of base salary
    – Each subsequent of 500 season tickets sold = 5% of base salary
    – NCAA tournament bid = 10% of base salary
    – NCAA Sweet 16 appearance = 10% of base salary
  • Contract terms
    – Four-year contract starting April 1, 2012
    – One-year rollover terms on April 1 of each contract year
    – Rollover is subject each year to discretion of athletic director and president
    – $250,000 buyout for separation without cause – payable by the terminating party in lump sum
    – Scheduling clause – should head coach leave for another Division I head coaching position, the coach agrees to a four-year, home-and-home game series
  • Other benefits
    – Season tickets for home athletic events
    – NCAA tournament tickets when WKU participates
    – Use of one automobile with insurance paid by WKU
    – Camps operated and managed by head coach and staff
  • Clark-Heard will have a $200,000 salary pool to hire her assistant coaching staff, as well as a $60,000 salary pool for her administrative staff.

For the record, 5 percent of Clark-Heard’s base salary is $7,500. Ten percent of her base salary would be $15,000. Plenty of room there to make serious money through incentives.


Quotes: Michelle Clark-Heard, Todd Stewart, Gary Ransdell and Jeff Walz discuss Clark-Heard’s hire

Folks, there’s plenty more to come on Michelle Clark-Heard’s hire as new women’s basketball coach, but for the moment, I’m going to unload lots of quotes on you from her introductory news conference.

The comments are from Clark-Heard, WKU president Gary Ransdell, interim athletic director Todd Stewart – a title that was officially announced at the news conference – and Louisville coach Jeff Walz, who was in attendance.

Here are their thoughts:

Todd Stewart

“It became clear that Michelle Clark-Heard’s experience as a head coach, recruiter, mentor to young women, developer of talent, game strategist and former player made her the ideal person to lead the Lady Topper program.”

“The passion she has for WKU, and you couple that with her unique set of experiences. She’s been a head coach – a very successful head coach. … When you add it all up with her natural exuberance for the job and WKU, it was an obvious choice.”

Michelle Clark-Heard

“This is an amazing day for me – one that I have dreamed about. Now, I’m right in the middle of it.”

“Twenty something years ago, when Paul Sanderford walked into my house and told me how special it would be on the Hill, I never imagined I’d be sitting here as the one that was going to be leading the Lady Toppers out on that floor.”

“As an assistant and as someone that has a dream, my dream is to lead young ladies too and mentor them and put my stamp on the program. That’s what I’m here to do.”

“I’m going to do everything I can to be the best I can be. I’ll be in the community, I’ll be on the road as soon as we leave this press conference. I’m trying to figure out where I need to go to find the next player because I know the deal. Dr. Ransdell said ‘Recruit, recruit, recruit,’ and I will be doing that.”

What style do you want to play? “I know what my philosophy is and what I like to do. I’m going to have to assess the talent I have, and what we will do is play hard and get after it. What I like to do is press and get up and down the floor. That’s my game. That’s what I know.”

“The facilities are second-to-none. Young ladies are very special when it comes to seeing all the little things. They see the dorm, and if they don’t like the dorm, they might decide that’s not where they want to be. But we have it all. Western Kentucky has all the facilities, and not just for basketball.”

On bringing energy back to the program: “That’s all I know. I know the standing and the clapping and the waving of the towels. That’s one of the things I’m looking to bring back. I’m going to be in the community. The team will be whereever we have to be to make sure we’ll get fans in the stands. … That’s what WKU is about. Whatever I have to do, wherever I have to go, whoever I have to preach to that WKU women’s basketball is back and ready to roll, that’s what I’ll do.”

“Getting back to the top is going to be taking what I have standing here and the recruits I add to them. The focus is right now. It’s not for a year later, two years down the road. It’s now.”

“We’re going to recruit against Coach Walz and everywhere else, and that’s what it’s about. We’ve got to get the best.”

On how AAU basketball has changed the game: “That’s where a lot of that talent is coming from. That’s the talent pool. There’s a lot of talent. We have some years where it’s bigger in the state of Kentucky, but that’s where it starts. When you have that, you have opportunities for all the schools to recruit nationally. There’s enough around for the three teams in the state. We can compete to get the best.”

Gary Ransdell

On meeting Clark-Heard on Tuesday: “That was a good get-acquainted period. Clearly, that went well.”

“She convinced me that she’s got the fire and the focus and the talent to be successful here. I agree with her – this is not a long-term turnaround. This is an immediate turnaround. We’ll see how long it takes us to get NCAA tournament worthy.”

On completing a thorough search for the next permanent AD after interim period: “I’m not sure how long permanent is, but maybe we can work on that one.”

Jeff Walz

“You’re upset because you lose a dear friend, but we’re excited for Michelle. She has the chance to coach at her alma mater and be two hours away from home, and we understand that’s something she can’t pass up.”

“She’s be successful because she knows how it works, and that you have to put great people around you. One thing I’m pleased about with myself is that I surrounded myself with great people like her, and she’ll do the same.”

On getting three strong WBB programs in the state of Kentucky: “It’d be great. Just look at the men’s side. Just this region right now is full of talent, and we can do that in women’s basketball. We’re all going after the top players, but you can’t let the second-best player slip away and become great. You have to have players. We can all coach, but you’ve got to have great players.”

Former WKU coach Paul Sanderford weighs in on Michelle Clark-Heard hire

I had the opportunity to speak with former Western Kentucky women’s basketball coach Paul Sanderford a few minutes ago about the Lady Toppers’ hire of Michelle Clark-Heard as the new head coach.

Sanderford coached Clark-Heard at WKU from 1987-90 and mentored her as one of his assistants while Sanderford was Nebraska’s head coach.

Here is what Sanderford had to say today. It’s worth noting that Sanderford said he had been contacted by three total schools – presumably including WKU – in the last two weeks about Clark-Heard for coaching vacanies.

Paul Sanderford

“I’m happy for her, and hopefully it’ll be a good fit for the university, Michelle and her husband.”

“Her ability to deal with people is probably her best attribute. She’s an outstanding communicator, recruiter. She understands the Xs and Os. I think she’s going to be successful. I’ve had calls from three different schools in the last two weeks about her.”

“I know she’s had a lot of interest … and everywhere she’s been brings some experience. The bottom line is players. That’s a pretty thin roster. I don’t think it’s going to be an easy job, but it’s a great job.”

WKU’s offical release on Clark-Heard’s hiring

Here is a statement just released by WKU on Michelle Clark-Heard’s hiring as the Lady Toppers’ new women’s basketball coach:

Former Lady Topper Michelle Clark-Heard — who spent two years as the head coach at Kentucky State, and has helped lead Louisville into national prominence the last five years as an assistant coach — has been named the new women’s basketball coach at Western Kentucky University.  The 15th head coach in Lady Topper history will be formally introduced at a 4 p.m. (CDT) press conference in the E.A. Diddle Arena media room.

Clark-Heard was part of four NCAA Tournament teams during her career at WKU, and has been on the bench as an assistant coach with seven other NCAA Tournament teams.

Clark-Heard just completed her fifth season as an assistant coach at the University of Louisville.  In those five seasons, the Cardinals have made three Sweet 16 appearances and made their first Final Four appearance, finishing as the National Runner-Up in 2009. Clark-Heard was instrumental in bringing in the No. 12 recruiting class in 2008, then followed with three consecutive Top 10 classes in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The 2010 recruiting class was the highest ranked class in school history, ranked fifth in the nation.  During her time at U of L, the Cardinals have produced eight all-Big East performers — six of which earned first-team honors.  Forward Monique Reid earned first-team all-league honors in both 2010 and 2011.

Clark-Heard came to Louisville after spending two seasons as the head coach at Kentucky State. She rejoined Jeff Walz after coaching with him for three seasons on the Nebraska bench under former head coach Paul Sanderford.

She was named the head coach at Kentucky State University in June of 2005. She took over a program that had won just one game during the 2004-05 season. In her first season she led the Thorobrettes to a 5-23 record, four of the wins were against Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponents. Her team was picked to finish 11th in the SIAC but ended the season in ninth place. In her last season she guided the Thorobrettes to an impressive 19-9 record, finishing tied for fourth place in the SIAC. Clark-Heard earned SIAC Coach-of-the-Year honors after the impressive turnaround. Her 2007 Thorobrettes were the second most improved team in NCAA Division II women’s basketball during the 2007 season.

Prior to taking the head coaching position at Kentucky State, Clark-Heard spent three seasons at Cincinnati as an assistant coach. The Bearcats advanced to postseason play in two of her three seasons there.

Clark-Heard spent four seasons at the University of Nebraska prior to her stint at Cincinnati. During that time, the Cornhuskers advanced to two NCAA Tournaments. She was also responsible for helping sign McDonald’s All-American Janice Bright for the Cornhuskers in 2001.

A four-year letterwinner on the Hill (1987-90), Clark-Heard was part of four NCAA Tournament teams during her Lady Topper career.  She also helped guide the Lady Toppers to a pair of Sun Belt Conference Tournament championships (1988 and 1989) and two conference regular-season titles (1989 and 1990).  She played in 118 games during her four years in the Hill, scoring 790 points and pulling down 615 rebounds.   WKU amassed 89 victories during her four years in uniform, winning 70 percent of the games over that span and putting together three 20-win seasons.

Upon graduation from WKU, she spent eight years working within a recreational setting, five in Bowling Green and three with the Louisville Metro Parks Department. While in Louisville, she also served as head junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach at DuPont Manual High School for the 1994-95 seasons and played professionally with the Kentucky Marauders of the Women’s Basketball Association in 1994-95.

The Louisville native earned Kentucky High School State Player of the Year honors in 1986 while playing at Atherton High School. She was inducted into the Atherton Hall of Fame in 2003, and married Luther Heard on August 16, 2003.

The Michelle Clark-Heard File:
Born — July 27, 1968
High School — Atherton (Ky.) 1986
HS Athletics — Basketball, 4 letters
College — WKU (BA), 1990; Nebraska (MA), 2001
College Athletics — Basketball, forward, 4 letters
Coaching Experience —
Nebraska, assistant coach (1998-99 – 2001-02)
Cincinnati, assistant coach (2002-03 – 2004-05)
Kentucky State, head coach (2005-06 – 2006-07)
Louisville, assistant coach (2007-08 – 2011-12)
Family — Husband, Luther

Clark-Heard hired as new WKU women’s basketball coach

New WKU women's basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard

New WKU women's basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard

Michelle Clark-Heard, a University of Louisville assistant and former Western Kentucky standout, is WKU’s 15th women’s basketball coach, the school announced today.

Clark-Heard, 43, replaces Mary Taylor Cowles, who was fired March 8 after 10 seasons as head coach. The Lady Toppers went 9-21 in 2011-12, totaling the most losses in a season in program history.

WKU will have a news conference at 4 p.m. today at E.A. Diddle Arena to officially announce the hiring.

Clark-Heard, who played for former WKU coach Paul Sanderford from 1987-90, returns to the Lady Toppers after five seasons as an assistant at Louisville.

The Cardinals reached the Sweet 16 three times during Clark-Heard’s tenure, including a national runner-up finish in 2009. Their current season ended Monday with a 72-68 loss to Maryland in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

During each of Clark-Heard’s first four seasons at Louisville, the Cardinals locked up a recruiting class in the top 12 nationally, including a 2010 class ranked as high as fifth.

Before that, Clark-Heard spent two seasons as head coach at Kentucky State. She took over a program that went 5-23 the year before her arrival, and in her final season at the helm, the Thorobrettes finished 19-9.

Clark-Heard also has assistant coaching experience at Cincinnati, Nebraska and DuPont Manual High School.

The 6-foot-2-inch center won two Sun Belt Conference championships and went to the NCAA tournament four straight seasons as a player at WKU. She played in 118 games during her four years, was involved in 89 victories and played her final three seasons with Cowles.

Other popular names during WKU’s search included Kentucky assistants Matt Insell and Kyra Elzy, Notre Dame assistant Jonathan Tsipis and Wright State head coach Mike Bradbury.

The coaching search was handled by athletic director Ross Bjork and senior associate athletic director Todd Stewart. WKU president Gary Ransdell joined the interviewing process this week, when Bjork accepted the AD position at Mississippi.

WKU president Gary Ransdell comments on WBB coaching search after Bjork’s departure

WKU president Gary Ransdell met with the media today to discuss athletic director Ross Bjork’s departure for the same position at the University of Mississippi.

BGDN writer Chad Bishop will have the majority of Ransdell’s comments for you, but Ransdell also spoke at length about the ongoing search for a new women’s basketball coach.

Ransdell said Bjork and senior associate athletic director Todd Stewart had interviewed “half a dozen” candidates for the job, but that he’s now become involved with the search and been a part of interviews this week.

All signs point to Ransdell & Co. filling the position soon, although he said he’d like to have a few more conversations with finalists before making a decision.

Popular names for the job have included Louisville assistant Michelle Clark-Heard, Kentucky assistant Matt Insell and Kyra Elzy, Wright State head coach Mike Bradbury and Notre Dame assistant Jonathan Tsipis.

Here are Ransdell’s comments on the Lady Topper search:

Gary Ransdell:

“I’ve just become involved this week. Now I find myself a bit more involved in that than I expected to be.”

“We’ve zeroed in on a few we want to meet with – that I would like to meet with before we make a decision. I’m more focused on it now than I was last week, but that process may run its course pretty quickly. We’ve been fortunate to have some outstanding candidates, and I think that will move along quickly.”

During comments about how Bjork helped ‘”fix” men’s basketball and football: “Women’s basketball will be fixed in a year or two. The next athletic director will take some credit for that.”

What must the next WBB coach bring to the job? “Recruiting would be first. I’m going to say recruiting will be second and probably third. We’ve got outstanding young women in our program, and we’ve got a quality product and great facilities and all the values you expect in a women’s basketball program. We just haven’t been competitive and we haven’t been selling tickets. Those two things, unfortunately, will catch up to a coach no matter how patient you are.”

“We’ve got to get our fans back in Diddle Arena and win basketball games. We have to get back to the top of the Sun Belt Conference, and we’ve got to get to the NCAA tournament and penetrate. That’s what we expect in both of our basketball programs, and I can’t give the women’s program any more slack than the men in that regard.”

“You just heard what I’m going to be saying to our next women’s basketball coach before he or she accepts this position. If they can convince me that’s their agenda as well, then we’re off and running.”