"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 Muffet 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 29 seasons:
• The 2001 national championship, defeating Purdue in the title game, 68-66. McGraw is one of seven active Division I coaches to guide her team to an NCAA title.
• Five trips to the NCAA Division I national championship game, including four of the past five NCAA title contests (2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015). McGraw is one of just two active Division I coaches (and four all-time) with at least five appearances in the NCAA national championship game — the other three Division I coaches (Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, UConn’s Geno Auriemma and Louisiana Tech’s Leon Barmore) all are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
• Seven trips to the NCAA Women’s Final Four (1997, 2001, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). McGraw is one of three active Division I coaches (and five all-time) to lead her team to seven Women’s Final Four appearances.
• One of five coaches (men’s or women’s basketball) in NCAA Division I history with 800 wins, seven Final Fours and five NCAA title games — others are Summitt, Auriemma, Duke men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski and the late North Carolina men’s coach Dean Smith.
• 13 NCAA Sweet 16 trips, all in the past 19 seasons (1997-2015). The Fighting Irish are one of five teams in the nation to make that claim (and five to do so in the past six years).
• Three-time consensus National Coach of the Year, sweeping the four major coaching honors (Associated Press, WBCA, Naismith Award and USBWA) in 2001, 2013 and 2014. McGraw is the only NCAA Division I coach to sweep the “Big Four” awards three times in her career.
• Seven-time conference Coach of the Year, most recently collecting her second ACC Coach of the Year trophy in 2016. McGraw has earned her seven coaching honors in five different conferences during her career (the past six awards while at Notre Dame), having also garnered accolades in the East Coast (1983 - at Lehigh), North Star (1988), Midwestern Collegiate/Horizon League (1991), BIG EAST (2001, 2013) and Atlantic Coast (2014, 2016) conferences.
• Ranks 10th all-time among NCAA Division I coaches (seventh among active coaches) with 818 career wins (through March 15).
• Ranks 14th all-time among Division I coaches (12th among active coaches) with a .757 career winning percentage (through March 15).
• Ranks eighth all-time among NCAA Division I coaches (tied for fifth among active coaches) with 28 20-win seasons, including 26 of her first 29 seasons at Notre Dame with 20-or-more victories, as well as 22 in the past 23 years (1993-2016). The Fighting Irish also have posted 13 25-win seasons, eight 30-win campaigns and four 35-win seasons in the past 19 years (1997-2016) under McGraw’s tutelage.
• Made 23 NCAA tournament appearances, including a current string of 21 consecutive NCAA tournament berths (the fourth-longest active run of consecutive appearances and seventh-longest streak at any time in NCAA tournament history). During this current streak (1996-2015; 2016 TBA), Notre Dame has won at least one NCAA postseason game 18 times.
• Won 11 conference regular-season titles, including the past five in a row outright in both the BIG EAST (2012, 2013) and ACC (2014, 2015, 2016). The Fighting Irish also have run the table three times in that span, going 16-0 in both the BIG EAST (2013) and ACC (2014, 2016), the latter being the first 16-0 records by an ACC school since 2002-03. What’s more, under McGraw’s guidance, Notre Dame has placed among the top four in the final conference standings 26 times in her first 29 seasons at the Fighting Irish helm.
• Earned nine conference tournament championships, including each of the past four seasons as members of the BIG EAST (2013) and ACC (2014, 2015, 2016).
• Collected 135 wins over ranked opponents, including 121 in the past 18 seasons (1998-99 through 2015-16). In addition, 53 of those wins have come against top-10 opponents, including 18 against top-five teams and four against No. 1-ranked squads.
• Made 313 appearances in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, including an active school-record streak of 174 consecutive weeks in the AP poll. McGraw is seventh among active Division I coaches and 14th all-time in AP poll appearances (through the final 2015-16 poll). Notre Dame also has spent 203 weeks all-time ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation, including 116 since 2010-11 (second-most this decade).
• Guided Notre Dame to the No. 1 ranking in the WBCA/USA Today coaches’ poll on Nov. 25 and Dec. 2, 2014, the first time the Fighting Irish were in the top spot since the final poll of Notre Dame’s 2001 NCAA national championship season. Notre Dame also became the first ACC team to earn the No. 1 ranking since March 12, 2007.
• 20 consecutive top-20 recruiting classes, dating back to the incoming class of 1997 (and including the incoming class of 2016, ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation). Notre Dame is one of just three programs in the nation that owns an active streak of that length.
• Ranks second on the all-time wins list (regardless of sport) in the 129-year history of Fighting Irish athletics, trailing only the late Michael DeCicco (799-90 combined record with men’s/women’s fencing from 1962-95).
• A perfect 100-percent NCAA Graduation Success Rate (GSR) score in seven of the past eight years (2007-15). In that time, Notre Dame is one of four programs in the country to record a perfect GSR and go on to play for the national title later that same season (something the Fighting Irish did in 2010-11, 2011-12, 2013-14 and 2014-15).
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 high above the west stands in Purcell Pavilion.
McGraw could have an even greater career milestone on the horizon, as she is one of 14 finalists for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2016. The members of this year’s class will be announced at the NCAA Men’s Final Four on April 4 in Houston.
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 21 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 571-142 (.801) record, including a sparkling 279-65 (.811) 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 21-year span, Notre Dame has averaged 27 victories per year, with four 35-win seasons, eight 30-win campaigns and 13 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 21 consecutive NCAA Championship appearances.
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 32 medals, including 18 golds.
In addition, McGraw has coached 30 players who have earned all-conference recognition a total of 63 times, including 24 first-team picks who have been chosen a total of 40 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 28 Notre Dame cagers have gone on to play professionally (domestically or overseas), including 15 who either have been drafted or signed as free agents with WNBA teams. The past 15 seasons (2001-15) have seen the greatest influx of Fighting Irish talent into the WNBA, with 13 Notre Dame players having been selected in the league’s annual draft during that time, including the school’s first four WNBA lottery picks (Devereaux Peters in 2012 to Minnesota; Diggins in 2013 to Tulsa/now the Dallas Wings; Kayla McBride in 2014 to San Antonio, all with the No. 3 overall choice, before Loyd became the program’s first-ever No. 1 WNBA Draft pick in 2015 by Seattle), making the Fighting Irish the only program in the 19-year history of the WNBA Draft to produce lottery (top-four) selections in four consecutive seasons.
McGraw’s pupils also have thrived in the WNBA, with four winning a combined total of six 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 (with the Macy, Indiana, native earning Finals MVP honors). 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 and 2015.
What’s more, Diggins, McBride and Riley all have earned WNBA All-Star honors (Diggins twice as a starter, Riley once), with Diggins also garnering first-team all-WNBA recognition in 2014. Diggins, McBride, Loyd and Natalie Achonwa also have collected WNBA All-Rookie Team accolades in recent years, highlighted by Loyd’s selection as the 2015 WNBA Rookie of the Year.
A native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, McGraw earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Saint Joseph’s University (Pa.) in 1977.
McGraw and her husband, Matt, celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary in 2015 and make their home in Granger, Indiana. They are the proud parents of 25-year-old son Murphy, a 2012 Indiana University graduate.