D-III says farewell to Fahey

More news about: Washington U.
Josh Whitman had Nancy Fahey on his staff at Wash U. and now will do so again.
University of Illinois athletics photo

By Pat Coleman

At times, her teams were unbeatable. At their worst, they were still a threat to reach the NCAA Tournament and advance. But if you learned nothing from Nancy Fahey's 31 years coaching Division III basketball, know this: She, and her teams, never ducked a challenge.

During the run

Entering the 2001 Final Four as the three-time defending champion, Nancy Fahey sat down with D3hoops.com's Ray Martel.


Josh Smith on Fahey: D-III's coaching legend
2009: Off the floor, Bears all friends
Wash U. 2007: Once again believing

Milestone wins

400: February 2003
500: November 2007
600: November 2011
700: January 2016 

The 2001 national champions.
The 600th-win Bears.

Now, Fahey will be taking on another challenge: Division I basketball. 

The coach with the most national championships in Division III basketball history is moving up. Fahey, the head women's basketball coach of Washington University in St. Louis for the past 31 years, is making the short trip but big leap to the Big Ten, where she has been named head coach at the University of Illinois.

Josh Whitman, the athletic director at Illinois, was previously athletic director at Wash U. The Illini went 9-22 this season under Matt Bollant.

With a career record of 737-133 and five national championships, Fahey is arguably the most successful coach in Division III women's basketball history. Her teams have been to the Final Four 10 times, with three more tournament trips ending in the national quarterfinals. That includes this season, in which the Bears fell to Tufts in the Elite Eight. She coached eight players to 14 D3hoops.com All-America selections, which were first handed out in 1998.

"Washington University will forever hold a special place in my heart," Fahey said in a statement released by the university. "The reason has been the people: the administration, supporters, colleagues and assistant coaches. They are truly special people.

"To the players that have been part of our program since the beginning to now, I want to say thank you. I feel so lucky that I had the opportunity to share some wins, championships and of course a few losses along the way. The incredible feelings I have of being part of the Bear Family will never change. It is impossible to express how much the players have meant to me."

"I am really excited for Coach Fahey and the opportunity that she has at the University of Illinois," said Bears men's basketball coach Mark Edwards. "We have worked closely together for the past 31 years and it is going to be difficult to envision Washington University basketball without Nancy Fahey, but I am confident that the program will continue as one of the elite programs of NCAA Division III basketball. From a personal standpoint, I will be losing the day-to-day relationship of someone I consider to be a part of my family- as a colleague, as a coach and as a friend. I wish her nothing but success and I am confident that she will lead the University of Illinois basketball to great success."

From 1998 to 2001, Fahey's Bears teams were almost unstoppable with Alia Fischer and Tasha Rodgers on the floor. Wash U. won the national title every year, including a tournament-record 79-33 win vs. Southern Maine in Danbury, Conn., in 2000. The team was 116-4 overall during that stretch, including a streak of 81 consecutive wins, which was the women's college basketball record at the time.

After an unexpected loss in the second round in 2002, Wash U. rallied to get to the Sweet 16 or beyond three of the next four seasons, then finished as national runner-up twice before winning Fahey her fifth Walnut and Bronze in 2010. 

Fahey reached the 600-win milestone faster than any coach in women's basketball history, doing so in her 706th career game, a 62-52 win vs. Hendrix on Nov. 26, 2011. 

But while the championships speak for themselves, as does the record, what it doesn't convey about Fahey's Bears is this: They have always been smart, disciplined, well-prepared and well-coached. Her teams haven't always had the most talented player in Division III on the floor -- far from it, some years. But they've always had a chance to go deep because of Fahey. She keeps her teams on an even keel, while still demanding excellence, and gets the most out of her roster.

Fahey is the first women's basketball coach to go directly from D-III to a D-I head coaching job since 2013-14, when Greg Todd made the jump from Transylvania to Morehead State. His new team had its best record this season, at 21-10. Former University of Chicago coach Aaron Roussell was 27-6 this season at Bucknell, while Scott Rueck, the last D-III coach to jump directly to a D-I power conference, led Oregon State to the Final Four last season and will be facing Florida State in the D-I Sweet 16 on Saturday.

From D-III to D-I

The list of coaches to go directly from D-III to D-I head coaching jobs since 2000 is relatively short, but those still coaching at the D-I level have had their best success recently. Click on the links to see stories on each coach's jump.

Coach, D-III school D-I school Year Best year there Current job
Lisa Stone, UW-Eau Claire Drake 2000-01 25-8, 2001-02 D-I St. Louis (26-8 in 15-16)
Candace Crabtree, Rowan Drexel 2000-01 19-10, 2000-01 Out of coaching
Tammy Smith, Muhlenberg Lafayette 2001-02 14-16, 2007-08 Out of coaching
Julie Goodenough, Hardin-Simmons Oklahoma State 2002-03 8-20, 2003-04 D-I Abilene Christian (26-4 in 15-16)
Mary Hegarty, Chapman Long Beach State 2003-04 19-9, 2004-05 Out of coaching
Kristin Hughes, Case Colgate 2004-05 12-18, 2004-05 Out of coaching
Stefanie Pemper, Bowdoin Navy 2008-09 24-8, 2013-14 Navy
Scott Rueck, George Fox Oregon State 2010-11 31-4, 2016-17 Oregon State
Aaron Roussell, Chicago Bucknell 2012-13 27-6, 2016-17 Bucknell
Greg Todd, Transylvania Morehead State 2013-14 21-10, 2016-17 Morehead State
Nancy Fahey, Washington U. Illinois 2016-17    

Washington U. won five national championships under Nancy Fahey, including four in a row from 1998 to 2001.
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