‘It doesn’t happen overnight’: Tricia Cullop introduced as Hurricanes head coach

Miami head coach Tricia Cullop during her introductory press conference at the Mann Auditorium on April 11, 2023. Photo credit: Miami Athletics

Tricia Cullop is ready to build something special at the University of Miami.

The Miami Hurricanes officially welcomed Cullop as the women’s basketball program’s new head coach with a press conference on Thursday, April 11.

Cullop joins the Hurricanes boasting an impressive 353-169 record during her 16 seasons at Toledo, including an 86-17 record over the past three seasons. But it wasn’t just her work on the court that put her on Miami’s radar.

“She recruited well, she developed well, she scheduled tough,” UM athletic director Dan Radakovich said. “Tricia has made an impact everywhere she’s been, and I have no doubt she will continue to do that at the University of Miami.”

Cullop, an Indiana native, has been in college basketball since playing for Purdue from 1989 to 1993. Since her playing days ended, she’s climbed her way up the coaching ranks, working as an assistant at Radford, Long Beach State and Xavier before amassing nearly 25 years of head coaching experience at Evansville and Toledo.

Though Collup commanded the respect of the room from the moment she stepped up to the podium, a different name seemed to hang over the crowd: her predecessor, Katie Meier, who spent nearly two decades with the program before stepping down on March 21. Her 365 wins are the most in program history, and her surprise trip to the Elite Eight last season solidified her legacy as one of the most notable figures in all of Miami Athletics.

“It won’t be easy to follow in her footsteps,” Cullop said of Meier. “She did an amazing job in her tenure building this program into something really special.”

Step one for Cullop will be trying to retain players Meier originally brought into the program. Four have already entered the transfer portal, including Ja’Leah Williams and Lashae Dwyer, who were third and fifth on the team in minutes this past season, respectively.

“I do feel that we’ve got a good chance to keep a lot of the kids that are here, but it’s an ongoing process,” Cullop said. “I’m trying to give them some space, knowing that they just went through a gut-wrenching, heartache moment in losing somebody that they care about.”

No matter who suits up for the Hurricanes next season, Cullop wants to establish a strong identity on both sides of the ball. When detailing her vision for the team next season, her eyes lit up as she characterized a defensive scheme designed to frustrate opponents with its tenacity. She went on to describe a balanced offense, emphasizing ball movement and smart shot selection.

Cullop’s Toledo team certainly embodied that vision. Last season, the Rockets led the Mid-American Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio, total assists, free-throw percentage and scoring margin. The team also ranked second in the conference in points per game, field goal percentage and turnover margin.

“You’re gonna enjoy it,” she said.

But one of the most crucial parts of carrying on Katie Meier’s legacy is continuing to build the fanbase she worked so hard to develop during her 19 years at Miami. When Meier first arrived in Coral Gables, the Hurricanes drew just over 1,000 fans per game. By her final season, that number had jumped to over 2,500.

Cullop acknowledged the challenge of packing the stands, especially outside of the Midwest, a region known for a deep tradition of supporting women’s athletics.

“We’re going to have to get out in the community and establish relationships,” she said. “People don’t come because of a billboard or an advertisement; they come because something in their heart draws them to come to a game.”

Despite these challenges, Cullop is confident that she will be able to pack the Watsco Center stands. And her time in Toledo backs it up: in her final season, the Rockets brought in nearly 4,500 fans per game, a mark that not only led the MAC but ranked 33rd in the nation.