After three years at USC Aiken, Phil Stern resigned as head women's basketball coach Tuesday to take an assistant coaching position at Arizona State.
"I'm real close to my team in Aiken, and that made it a real difficult decision," he said. "They supported me, and that made it a little easier in the end."
Stern resurrected the Lady Pacers' program, recording a 42-41 mark in his tenure. Two years ago, he was named Peach Belt Conference Coach of the Year after leading USC Aiken to its first winning season (15-12) since 1993-94. In the four seasons before Stern's arrival, USC Aiken was a combined 32-76.
Last season, the Lady Pacers went 22-7 overall and 14-2 in the conference, and they won their first-ever Peach Belt North Division title. USC Aiken advanced to the PBC Tournament championship game and just missed advancing to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
"Phil's really an outstanding coach, and it was just a matter of time," USC Aiken athletics director Randy Warrick said. "We would've loved to have kept him a couple of more years, but it was inevitable."
Stern joins a Lady Sun Devils team that won its first Pacific-10 Conference title last season and made its first trip to the NCAA Division I Tournament in nine seasons. His duties will include recruiting and working with the offense.
The Lady Pacers return 10 of 12 players next season, including PBC All-Conference first team guard Jami Cornwell and second-teamer Julie Szabo.
"We have a great team coming back and great recruits coming in," Stern said. "There's all the makings of a team that could go deep in the NCAA Tournament. That's one thing I'm proud of. We've left the program in much better than shape than it was when we took it over."
Warrick will meet with school officials this morning to work out a time line for replacing Stern; he wants a coach in place no later than July 1. A search committee made up of USC Aiken faculty members, athletic department members, athletes and community members will be assembled soon.
Two early possible candidates for the position include Columbus State assistant coach Jonathan Norton and former USC Aiken assistant and current Hofstra assistant coach Elizabeth O'Brien.
"I'd love to have a person just like coach Stern," Warrick said. "I think you want somebody who's going to be energetic and very positive. You want someone who's going to challenge the student-athletes. And coach Stern did all of those things."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.