STARKVILLE — In less than a week, Mississippi State could have found its replacement for Vic Schaefer.
Following Schaefer’s departure to Texas on April 5, MSU athletic director John Cohen is seemingly set to hire Old Dominion’s Nikki McCray-Penson as the new head women’s basketball coach in Starkville according to a source with immediate knowledge of the situation.
A deal has yet to be officially agreed upon.
After a standout career under Pat Summitt at Tennessee, McCray-Penson spent 11 years playing professionally. A three-time WNBA All-Star and a two-time Olympic medalist, she finished her pro career with 2,550 career points.
McCray-Penson’s first coaching gig came as an assistant at Western Kentucky between 2006 and 2008. After helping the Hilltoppers to the 2008 Sun Belt Tournament championship and an appearance in the NCAA tournament, she joined Dawn Staley’s staff at South Carolina.
In nine years with the Gamecocks, McCray-Penson helped USC to four SEC regular season titles, three conference tournament championships and the 2017 national title. Parlaying her time in Columbia into the head coaching job at Old Dominion, she’s recorded a 53-40 record in three seasons at the helm — including 20-win campaigns in both 2019 and 2020.
“Blessings come in different forms, but working with Nikki for the last nine years has been life fulfilling,” Staley said in a news release when McCray Penson was hired at ODU in 2017. “ODU’s past, present and future players and the Lady Monarch community have gotten a gem of a person and head coach.”
It remains to be seen what McCray-Penson’s salary will be at MSU, but she stands to receive a major pay raise. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, she made $200,000 in base salary in 2018-19. By contrast, a source with immediate knowledge of the situation told The Dispatch last week Schaefer was slated to make nearly $2 million annually had he stayed.
Though attrition is natural during a coaching search, McCray-Penson should inherit a roster that is capable of a deep NCAA Tournament run next March. The Bulldogs are slated to lose lone senior Jordan Danberry and junior Chloe Bibby — who entered the transfer portal Tuesday night — but return second team All-SEC performers Rickea Jackson and Jessika Carter. Five-star prospect Madison Hayes will also join the fold alongside Texas forward Deyona Gaston in the freshman class.
The Bulldogs went with McCray-Penson over a candidate pool that included Louisville’s Jeff Walz and Schaefer disciple Johnnie Harris. A source confirmed to The Dispatch Thursday finalists had been narrowed to McCray-Penson and Walz.
Walz confirmed to WDRB’s Rick Bozich Thursday night that he would be staying at Louisville.
This report has been updated to reflect the deal between McCray-Penson and MSU is not official.