Following a 10-year tenure at the helm of the Yale women’s basketball program, head coach Chris Gobrecht has accepted a position as head coach of the U.S. Air Force Academy’s women’s basketball team, Jim Knowlton, Air Force director of athletics, announced Tuesday.
Gobrecht, the winningest head coach in the history of Yale women’s basketball, departs from New Haven to take on her sixth NCAA Division I head coaching job in her 35-year career. She has also asked her assistant coaches to follow her to the Air Force program, but they have not yet decided whether or not to stay, according to guard Nyasha Sarju ’16.
Yale captain and guard Sarah Halejian ’15 said Gobrecht revealed the news to her players at a team meeting yesterday afternoon, and that the announcement came as a “complete surprise” to everyone on the team.
“Obviously everyone was super upset, but I think that it’s also important at this point to move on and look to the future,” Halejian said. “I think that Yale’s athletic department will do a great job getting the best possible candidate [as Gobrecht’s successor]. We’re all upset, but the future is still very bright.”
Though Gobrecht’s own extensive pedigree as a player and coach does not directly touch Air Force, she does hold ties to the service academy through her son, Eric Gobrecht, who graduated from the school in 2009 as a member of its water polo team.
Halejian said she does not know whether Gobrecht would be leaving for Air Force immediately, and she was unaware of the short-term plans to hire a new Yale head coach. Director of Athletics Tom Beckett said that the search for a new head coach will begin immediately and that the search committee will seek assistance from the members of the team in finding a coach.
“It is very difficult for me to leave Yale University, and in particular, difficult to leave a team that I love and one I believe is destined for great success in the Ivy League next year and for years to come,” Gobrecht said in an Air Force announcement.
Air Force hired Gobrecht just a month after announcing that former head coach Andrea Williams would not have her contract renewed. Williams began coaching the Falcons in 2010 and compiled just a 22–128 record, with an 8–74 mark in Mountain West Conference play in her five years at Air Force.
Gobrecht has experience turning around struggling programs, as she stepped into her role at Yale in 2005 following three consecutive losing Ivy seasons. Though the Bulldogs went 2–12 and 5–9 against Ivy foes during her first two seasons, Gobrecht led Yale to an Ivy record of 0.500 or better in seven of the next eight years.
“Coach Chris Gobrecht has been an exceptional leader and role model as the head coach of the Yale women’s basketball program,” Beckett said in an email. “We are extremely proud of her work with the women of Yale basketball and her countless contributions to our department and the entire Yale community.”
Perhaps Gobrecht’s most notable season was 2010–11, in which the Elis boasted a 10–4 conference record and a 14–15 overall mark, and tied Harvard for a second-place finish in the Ancient Eight standings en route to an appearance in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Overall, Gobrecht finishes with a 117–162 record at Yale, giving her the most wins in program history. She also holds that honor at the University of Washington, where she went 243–89 in 11 seasons. Her 542–473 record as a Division I head coach gives her a win total in the top 30 among active coaches in the NCAA.
“When I was recruited, she was an amazing coach,” forward Meredith Boardman ’16 said. “She was one of the only ones that was completely transparent throughout the whole process, so that is something that I have always really admired in her. It’s sad, but I know that she is going to do great things and I just feel lucky to have played for her.”
Halejian added that Gobrecht took the Yale basketball program to new levels in her decade as head coach, and that she is confident the Elis will continue to improve after her departure.
According to Boardman, none of the players had ever considered that Gobrecht would leave during their time at Yale.
“Each season we focus on doing well,” Boardman said. “Our focus is always about the team. [Gobrecht leaving] was never [something that] I thought about.”
Boardman and Halejian both highlighted memories of Gobrecht supporting her players both on and off the court. Halejian described the team’s trip to Ireland in the summer of 2013 as an opportunity for players to enjoy each other’s company in a less intense environment, while Boardman said Gobrecht took each class out to dinner each year, a kind gesture that showed her care for players.
Gobrecht could not be reached for comment after the Air Force announcement last night.
Gobrecht will be the eighth head coach in Air Force women’s basketball history.