"If we searched for an entire year. I don't think we would find anyone better suited for our program."
With those words, former Notre Dame director of athletics Gene Corrigan announced the hiring of Muffet McGraw as the third head coach of the Fighting Irish women's basketball program on May 18, 1987. Corrigan may not have realized it at the time, but he also ushered in an era of unparalleled success in women's basketball at Notre Dame, brought to life on the shoulders of a 5-foot-6 dynamo who accepts nothing less than the very best from herself, her players and her program.
Ask anyone familiar with women's basketball about McGraw and her Notre Dame program and inevitably, you'll hear the same two words -- consistency and excellence. And it's no wonder, when you consider what McGraw and the Fighting Irish have achieved in the past 28 seasons:
Add it all up and you have the framework for a Hall of Fame career. And, on June 11, 2011, that's exactly what McGraw became, as she officially was the first Notre Dame representative to be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, an accomplishment immortalized with a banner hanging in Purcell Pavilion.
Still, with all of those accomplishments in hand, McGraw has shown no signs of slowing down any time soon. In July 2012, the veteran head coach signed a landmark 10-year contract extension (believed to be among the longest contract agreements in NCAA women's basketball history) that will keep her patrolling the Fighting Irish sidelines through the 2021-22 campaign.
"For more than 25 years, Muffet has led our women's basketball program and represented this University with distinction," said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame's president. "Her teams have excelled on the court and in the classroom, and I am absolutely delighted that she will continue to lead the Irish for many more years."
"We are thrilled to be able to enter into a decade-long agreement with Muffet, who is not only the face of Notre Dame women's basketball, but increasingly, the face of women's basketball, given all that she's accomplished," said University vice president and director of athletics Jack Swarbrick. "She's taken this program to a place where it's annually in the conversation for the national championship, which is the model all coaches want to follow. She's also playing an important role in the game nationally, and her peers recognize those contributions, as well as the quality of her program here at Notre Dame. Off the court, she has created a program that has a lasting community identification and a special connection between the University and the city of South Bend, which is one of those unique points of intersection that universities have to be careful to build and maintain, and she's done that for us in a really remarkable way."
McGraw's post at Notre Dame was further enhanced on Feb. 16, 2015, when one of her former players, point guard Karen (Robinson) Keyes ('91) and her husband, Kevin, made a $5 million gift to their alma mater to endow its head women's basketball coaching position, now known as the Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women's Basketball Coach. It's also believed to be the largest endowment gift of its kind in NCAA women's basketball history, as well as the first endowed coaching position of any sort in Notre Dame athletics history.
"Muffet is one of the most important influences in our lives," Karen Keyes said. "We are proud to honor her, recognize her dedication to the University and continue to admire all of the successful women she has coached and developed over her entire career."
Under McGraw's guidance, the past 20 seasons (1995-96 to the present) have been the most successful in Notre Dame's history, reflecting the program's remarkable BIG EAST Conference era and transition to its current home, the Atlantic Coast Conference. During that time, the Fighting Irish have compiled an impressive 540-141 (.793) record, including a sparkling 263-65 (.802) regular-season mark in conference play, finishing their 18-year BIG EAST tenure with the second-best winning percentage (232-64, .784) in that league's history.
During this two-decade span, Notre Dame has averaged 27 victories per year, with four 35-win seasons, seven 30-win campaigns and 12 25-win seasons to its credit. What's more, the Fighting Irish have one NCAA national championship (2001), five NCAA title game appearances (2001, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015), seven NCAA Women's Final Four berths (1997, 2001, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) and 13 Sweet 16 showings since the 1995-96 season, which began the program's current run of 20 consecutive NCAA Championship appearances.
McGraw's coaching acumen was on full display in 2014-15, as the veteran mentor skillfully molded a Notre Dame team without a senior starter and missing 40 percent of its offensive production from the previous season into a 36-3 club that was ranked No. 2 in both major national polls at year's end, won its second consecutive ACC regular-season and tournament titles and advanced to the NCAA Women's Final Four for the fifth year in a row (just the fourth school ever to do so), as well as the NCAA national championship game for the fourth time in five seasons (only the third Division I program to accomplish that feat).
Along the way, McGraw's Fighting Irish ranked among the top 20 in the nation in eight NCAA statistical categories, registering the country's second-best field-goal percentage (.492) and fifth-best scoring offense (79.8 ppg.), along with other top-10 showings in scoring margin (fifth - +20.0 ppg.), assists (seventh -- 17.8 apg.), three-point field goal percentage (seventh - .383) and personal fouls (10th -- 14.2 per game).
This past season also demonstrated McGraw's remarkable ability to develop and grow her players during the rigors of one of the nation's toughest schedules. With more than half her 13-player roster consisting of freshmen and sophomores (including three starters), McGraw led Notre Dame to 13 wins against ranked opponents, highlighted by a school record-tying eight victories over top-10 teams. In addition, the Fighting Irish reeled off a 22-game winning streak during the final three months of the season, matching the fourth-longest success string in program history (and the fourth consecutive year Notre Dame has had a winning streak of 20 or more games).
Success for McGraw also has meant coaching great players. During her illustrious career, the Notre Dame skipper has coached 18 All-Americans, including 2001 consensus National Player of the Year Ruth Riley, 2015 espnW National Player of the Year Jewell Loyd and four-time All-American (and two-time consensus first-team All-America choice) Skylar Diggins. McGraw also has worked with 15 players who have been selected for USA or Canada Basketball National Teams, with those players going on to win a total of 25 medals, including 13 golds.
In addition, McGraw has coached 28 players who have earned all-conference recognition a total of 60 times, including 22 first-team picks who have been chosen a total of 37 times, and has helped shape several other national award winners, namely a two-time Nancy Lieberman Award recipient (Diggins), two Frances Pomeroy Naismith award honorees (Niele Ivey in 2001, Megan Duffy in 2006) and two United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) National Freshman of the Year selections (Jacqueline Batteast in 2002 and Loyd in 2013).
Another sign of McGraw's success has been her ability to prepare her players for the next level. No less than 27 Notre Dame cagers have gone on to play professionally (domestically or overseas), including 14 who either have been drafted or signed as free agents with WNBA teams. The past 14 seasons (2001-14) have seen the greatest influx of Fighting Irish talent into the WNBA, with 12 Notre Dame players having been selected in the league's annual draft during that time, including the school's first three WNBA lottery picks (Devereaux Peters in 2012 to Minnesota; Diggins in 2013 to Tulsa; Kayla McBride in 2014 to San Antonio, all with the No. 3 overall choice), making the Fighting Irish just the second program in the 18-year history of the WNBA Draft to produce lottery (top-four) selections in three consecutive seasons.
McGraw's pupils also have thrived in the WNBA, with four winning league titles during their professional careers. Coquese Washington ('92) was the first to hoist the WNBA hardware with the Houston Comets in 2000, followed three years later by Riley with the Detroit Shock. Riley and Batteast teamed up to help Detroit to its second crown in 2006, before Peters became the latest Fighting Irish alum to earn WNBA championship gold, helping Minnesota to the title in 2013.
Dedicated to helping grow and further the sport in any way possible, McGraw has groomed 13 of her former players and/or assistant coaches who currently are serving on basketball staffs at the college level. Of those 13 protegés, four presently are Division I head coaches -- Bill Fennelly (Iowa State), Kevin McGuff (Ohio State), Jonathan Tsipis (George Washington) and Washington (Penn State). McGuff and Washington (along with current Fighting Irish associate head coach Carol Owens) comprised McGraw's assistant coaching staff on Notre Dame's 2001 NCAA national championship squad, while McGuff and Owens also were on staff for the Fighting Irish during their run to the 1997 NCAA Final Four (that team also included Ivey and Beth (Morgan) Cunningham, both of whom are currently on McGraw's staff).
A native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, McGraw earned her bachelor's degree in sociology from Saint Joseph's University (Pa.) in 1977. Following graduation, she coached for two seasons at Archbishop Carroll High School (50-3 record) in the Philadelphia suburb of Radnor, and two more at her alma mater as an assistant coach under Jim Foster (now the head coach at Chattanooga). In 1982, McGraw was named head coach at Lehigh University, her teams compiling a sharp 88-41 (.683) record during her five-year tenure.
McGraw and her husband, Matt, will celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary in 2015 and make their home in Granger, Ind. They are the proud parents of 25-year-old son Murphy, a 2012 Indiana University graduate.
-- updated August 2015