Commentary

Barnes Arico takes on Michigan

Originally Published: April 23, 2012
By Joanne C. Gerstner | espnW

Kim Barnes Arico AP Photo/Carlos OsorioKim Barnes Arico and St. John's advanced to the Sweet 16 in last season's NCAA tournament.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It was mostly a typical Monday for the Barnes Arico family.

Emma, 6, proudly showed off the gap where her lower baby tooth fell out Sunday night. Somehow the Tooth Fairy found her, even though she's not home right now, and left her $5.

Her younger sister, Cecelia, is turning 4 on Tuesday and excited about celebrating at a place that has inflatable things to bounce around in.

Trevor, the oldest at 10, kept watch over his sisters as their mom started a new chapter in her career. Kim Barnes Arico was named women's basketball coach at the University of Michigan. She succeeds Kevin Borseth, who left Michigan after five years to return to his former head-coaching gig at Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Michigan has had a dismal history in women's basketball, with 11 winning seasons in nearly four decades. But under Borseth, the losing was halted. The Wolverines finished 20-12 last season and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years.

[+] EnlargeKim Barnes Arico
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioMichigan coach Kim Barnes Arico poses with her daughter and her new team.

"I wanted to make sure that I could go someplace where I could be successful, so I've done a lot of research and homework," Barnes Arico, 41, said. "That was a big question in my mind coming here, why didn't they win? And what's happened that's turning the tide here? I think it's really important to see that it is turning here, for me, in my decision, in a positive way.

"The program is already going here it's not like you're starting from the bottom ... that's an exciting thing for me, not to have to start at the bottom."

Barnes Arico knows what it is to start from the bottom. In a decade at St. John's, she took a team that finished 3-24 and 0-16 in the Big East to 24-10 and 13-3 this past season.

Barnes Arico is the winningest coach in St. John's history with a 176-133 record. The Red Storm made four trips to the NCAA tournament during her tenure, reaching the Sweet 16 this past spring.

She said it was hard leaving St. John's, but the allure of coaching at Michigan and in the Big Ten was too much to pass up.

"I think that's one of the most exciting things about this league -- as good as the Big Ten is, and it's tremendous, you have an opportunity to win it," Barnes Arico said. "I don't think you could say it [in the Big East], and if you do say that in our league, it's a freakish thing.

"You have UConn and Notre Dame, and Louisville is going to be tremendous, and Rutgers has the best players, so I think to be in a league where any given night you have a great shot at winning a game -- but you've also got a great shot at winning the championship -- that's one of the real exciting things about this league."

Michigan athletic director David Brandon said a formal, multiyear contract has not yet been formalized with Barnes Arico, but the two parties have settled on terms. Brandon said the university did not make hiring a woman the priority, but he believes Michigan got the best person for the job.

"We see this as a sport that has a huge upside," Brandon said. "We can put a lot more fans in the seats, we can create a lot more energy around it, and we can be even more competitive than we've been in the last few years."

Having her loved ones, including husband Larry, their kids and her parents, at the news conference at Michigan Stadium was important to Barnes Arico, as she said she wants to show that women do not have to choose between succeeding at work and having a family.

"I think that was a big-time, big-time commitment on [Michigan's] part, just because you have lost jobs recently -- and I don't want to be negative -- at Indiana, Illinois, Boston College, they all went this year with men," Barnes Arico said. "Sometimes, it's discouraging if you're a female. For Michigan to give me this opportunity speaks volumes. And I am glad they went in this direction."

Barnes Arico's husband, a high school athletic director and former football coach, will quit his job and stay home with the family for the next year to help things get settled in Ann Arbor.

"She has a gift, a passion for this, so how can I not support that fully?" Larry said. "She's just an amazing coach, with a real gift for building relationships with people. So I'm going to hold down the fort at home for us for a while."

Barnes Arico gave her husband a lot credit for her being able to take the Michigan job without hesitation.

"I spoke at the WBCA (Women's Basketball Coaches Association) convention recently and about having a family and raising a family in this environment," she said. "I think people are so afraid to do it. But for me, I wasn't going to give up on my family and I wasn't going to give up on this opportunity. Men do it all the time. Men have great careers, are successful and have families. Why can't women do it too as long as you're supported?"

While Barnes Arico was speaking, she glanced over to her left and saw her daughters, both clad in Michigan yellow and blue dresses, twirling around in circles until they were falling-down dizzy and squealing with laughter with her new players.

She smiled and laughed. Yep, just another average day for the Barnes Arico family -- a nonstop mix of basketball and lots of kid-friendly hijinks.

Joanne C. Gerstner

Contributor, espnW.com
Joanne C. Gerstner is a staff writer with espnW. She is an award-winning sports writer, having covered the Olympics, NBA and college sports. Her work has regularly appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Detroit News. You can follow her on Twitter @joannecgerstner.