EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – After Kevin Baker resigned from his post as the head coach of the UTEP women’s basketball team, the Miners are on the hunt for a new coach once again.
Baker spent six seasons at UTEP and the timing of his resignation was interesting, less than a month after he was named the Conference USA co-Coach of the Year after leading the Miners to a 20-win season and the WNIT.
“After careful consideration of a generous extension offer from UTEP and weighing my options moving forward, I have decided to end my tenure with the Miners,” Baker said. “This has been a tough decision for me, but I think the time is right for me to move on to the next chapter of my life, spend more time near family, and begin searching for a new career path.”
Baker’s resignation comes with one year remaining on his contract, which was extended after the 2020-21 season through 2023-24. He was to be paid $249,000 in the final year of that deal.
However, he will not owe UTEP any form of payment as a buyout, because he did not accept another coaching job, according to a UTEP official.
With Baker moving on, UTEP athletic director Jim Senter must now find a new coach quickly. The NCAA Transfer Portal window closes May 11, so whoever takes over for Baker will need to move quickly to put a roster and a coaching staff together.
Senter has typically favored sitting head coaches or Power-5 assistants when making new hires. He’s been good in the past at keeping his cards close to the vest. The Miners will be putting together a list of potential candidates to choose from and KTSM has done the same. Below are six possibilities for the UTEP job, in no particular order.
Potential UTEP Women’s Basketball Coaching Candidates
Todd Buchanan, UTEP Associate Head Coach – From a sheer continuity standpoint, Todd Buchanan would make a lot of sense for UTEP. He’s been on staff as Baker’s top assistant since 2019 and helped recruit talent to El Paso year after year. He also has previous head coaching experience; Buchanan was in charge of the women’s basketball programs at Houston Christian and the University of Houston. He led the Cougars to an NCAA Tournament at-large bid and a 16-0 Conference USA record in his first season at Houston in 2010-11.
Alex Simmons, Gardner-Webb Head Coach – Alex Simmons wrapped up her fifth season as the head coach at Gardner-Webb with an undefeated conference record and a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2022-23. Simmons has coached in the women’s game since 2009 at Kansas, Middle Tennessee, Ole Miss and now Gardner-Webb. Moreover, she also has an impressive pedigree as a player. Simmons was a 2004 McDonald’s All-American and won back-to-back national championships under Pat Summitt at Tennessee in 2007 and 2008. UPDATE: Simmons was hired as the head coach at Memphis on Thursday, April 6.
Jon Newlee, Idaho Head Coach – Jon Newlee has been the boss at Idaho since 2008, with a lot of success. The Vandals have been to three NCAA Tournaments and two WNITs under Newlee’s guidance; their last trip to the Big Dance was in 2016 and the last trip to the WNIT was in 2019. In his career, he’s been to four NCAA Tournaments and five WNITs. Moreover, Newlee and Senter go way back to their days at Idaho State. They worked together there in 2003-04 when Senter was the athletic director and Newlee the women’s basketball coach, before he left for Idaho and Senter moved on to San Diego State.
Tamara Inoue, UC-Irvine Head Coach – Inoue took over as the head coach at UC-Irvine in 2016 and just led the Anteaters to a Big West regular season championship and a first round victory in the WNIT in 2022-23. She was the 2020-21 conference Coach of the Year and has been to the postseason twice in seven years at UC-Irvine. She also knows the Borderland region well; Inoue was an assistant coach at New Mexico State from 2011-16, helping the Aggies to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances.
Ayla Guzzardo, Southeastern Louisiana Head Coach – Ayla Guzzardo grew up in Hammond, the city where Southeastern Louisiana is located and has steadily grown her hometown team into a power in the Southland Conference since taking over in 2016-17. The Lions just won the conference championship in 2022-23 after a 21-10 finish and Guzzardo led the program to its first Division I NCAA Tournament in program history last month. She won the league’s Coach of the Year award for her efforts.
Tracy Sanders, Southern Utah Head Coach – In Southern Utah’s first season in the WAC in 2022-23, Tracy Sanders led the Thunderbirds to the first NCAA Tournament appearance in the program’s Division I history. Sanders has been at Southern Utah for five seasons and has found success in both the Big Sky and the WAC. However, she just signed a contract extension to stay in Cedar City, so unless she has a sudden change of heart, it’s doubtful that she’ll come to El Paso.