Chatman not UF candidate

Published: Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 4:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 4:10 p.m.

Pokey Chatman is leaving LSU. But it doesn't look like she's coming to Florida.

The Gators have not contacted Chatman regarding their vacant head coaching position, sources close to the Florida women's basketball program told The Sun on Thursday.

Chatman unexpectedly resigned Wednesday, citing a desire to pursue "other career opportunities." That prompted wild speculation in both Baton Rouge and Gainesville that she was being courted by the Gators, who fired coach Carolyn Peck back on Feb. 12.

Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley has said he will not comment on Florida's coaching search until it is complete. LSU athletic director Skip Bertman, meanwhile, said no school — including Florida — had contacted him regarding Chatman's availability in a story published Thursday by the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

"I have not received a call from Florida or any other AD about Pokey," Bertman said.

Chatman's resignation took another bizarre twist Thursday when she said in a statement she would not coach the Tigers in the NCAA Tournament after the school said Wednesday she would coach the Tigers in the NCAA Tournament.

‘‘My resignation (Wednesday) has prompted speculation and rumors that far exceeded my expectations and it is clear that my presence would be a great distraction during the NCAA Tournament,’’ Chatman said in a statement.

LSU assistant coach Bob Starkey will act as the head coach during the NCAA Tournament.

Chatman, though, has the type of resume Florida is looking for. The 37-year-old Chatman is 90-14 as LSU's head coach and guided the Tigers to Final Four appearances in 2005 and 2006, winning the SEC regular-season titles along the way.

Chatman was 15-5 as acting head coach during the latter stages of the 2003-04 season, when longtime coach Sue Gunter left the team because of lung disease. That included a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans.

Florida now finds itself competing with some heavy hitters on the women's college basketball landscape for a new coach.

The Tigers head coaching job is immediately the most desirable coaching job available given tradition, current talent base and fan support. LSU, Arkansas, Michigan and Florida are schools with vacant head coaching jobs.

Should another attractive job open up — such as Texas, where longtime coach Jody Conradt is rumored to be close to retirement — it would only add competition to Florida's search.

Foley, during his Feb. 12 announcement of Peck's firing, said Florida's coaching search would likely last through the NCAA Tournament. and maybe into April.

"We're not going to bother people while they're playing," Foley said. "But we can make some phone calls and find out about some people. But we don't want to be in the way of a potential coach. We're respectful of people still trying to win games, win championships. We don't want to get in the way."

While the Gators have very few coaches with close Florida ties to choose from, there is already an immediate front-runner for the LSU job — Baylor coach Kim Mulkey.

Mulkey, who coached Baylor to the 2005 national championship, is a Louisiana native who played and served as an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech. After Baylor won its Big 12 Conference quarterfinal game in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night against Kansas, Mulkey downplayed the possibility of leaving Baylor for another gig.

‘‘I just don’t even think making a comment about any of the job openings is appropriate,’’ Mulkey said. ‘‘Baylor treats me great. We are a Top 25 team. I get paid great at Baylor. It’s nothing more than another job that is open, just like the Florida job, just like the Michigan job, just like the Arkansas job.

‘‘You hear it (speculation). You hear it all the time. Anybody who is young and has built a program, it goes without saying that any job opening your name is somehow going to be attached to it. When job openings come up, there’s speculation and things to write about. ... It’s just part of it. It’s part of the profession.’’

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