July 24, 2011
Ten Lobo Moments: GoLobos.com is flashing back on ten special Lobo moments from the 2010-11 season.
Tuesday: A Changing of the Guard in The Pit
Previous Flashbacks of 2010-11
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It was a flip-flop type of deal that made a lot of sense, but the beginning of this changing of the guard at The Pit began with a shock: Don Flanagan announcing his retirement.
It was an announcement that surely struck more than a few Lobo fans like a punch to the gut, partly because Flanagan's retirement was not expected in 2011. It also was a shock to suddenly realize that the coach, who put New Mexico women's basketball on the map, would no longer be roaming The Pit's sidelines.
The blow was softened a few weeks later when New Mexico named Yvonne Sanchez, a Flanagan assistant/protégé as the program's fifth head coach.
"After conducting a national search, we realized that the best candidate was right here at the University of New Mexico," said Paul Krebs, vice president of athletics.
The move from Flanagan to Sanchez made sense on several levels. Of course, Sanchez, a Lobo assistant for 11 years was deserving of the chance. But the passion Sanchez feels for Lobo basketball and for New Mexico wasn't going to be found in any other qualified candidate.
Sanchez's roots are New Mexico and also are Flanagan. She played for Flanagan at Eldorado. She coached at UNM. "Being a native New Mexican, the passion and pride I have for this university and athletic department is tremendous," she said.
Sanchez takes over a jewel of a program and although this gem needs a little polishing to reach its full potential, there is no question that Flanagan took a piece of coal and squeezed it into a diamond.
Flanagan took over a UNM program that had gone 14-96 in the four seasons prior to his arrival in The Pit. UNM lost games 108-45, 100-46, 83-42, 92-22, 95-48, 104-50 and 86-34. The Pit during those sad times was about as exciting as sitting in a library. Except your average library was louder.
Flanagan instantly gave the Lobo women's game credibility because of the reputation he carved out with his 401-13 record at Eldorado High. Lobo fans didn't waste any time marching over to The Pit to see if Flanagan's magic carried over to the collegiate level.
It did. At UNM, he took the Lobos to eight NCAA Tournaments and led them to five conference tournament titles. He built a product that became one of the top attended games in NCAA women's basketball. In 16 seasons, he posted a record of 340-168 and a league mark of 150-88.
Flanagan did all this with class, character and humility, leaving no broken rules or academic failures in his wake.
This also makes Sanchez's hiring seem like the perfect move. She also is a person of class, character and humility -- with a bit more energy. There also is a bit more pressure on her shoulders.
Sanchez takes over an established program that has few equals in women's basketball when it comes to fan and community support. She is coaching her product in one of the finest basketball facilities in the nation.
So, put that energy to good use, Yvonne. Get out there and recruit and bring us a few more titles and NCAA bids.