BERKELEY, Calif. — Lindsay Gottlieb’s royal blue suitcase sits in her dark, empty office, with former coach Joanne Boyle’s nameplate still hanging out front near the door.
That switch will happen soon enough — just a minor detail in what should be a smooth transition for California’s women’s basketball program with a familiar face running the team.
Gottlieb got back to Berkeley in a hurry as soon as she was hired to coach the Golden Bears following three seasons in charge at UC Santa Barbara. She replaces her longtime mentor after Boyle bolted for the Virginia job earlier this month.
“Cal’s always been not a job, but the job. This is where I always wanted to be. I did not expect in three years for Joanne to leave,” Gottlieb said Tuesday when formally introduced at Haas Pavilion. “Coming here, I am not saying I’m just happy to be at Cal. We want to hit it out of the park.”
Gottlieb was one of three finalists for the University of Maine job in 2007, when Cindy Blodgett was hired to replace the departed Ann McInerney.
The 33-year-old Gottlieb is eager to build on what she helped start at Cal as a top assistant under Boyle. And what an intriguing time to take over heading into the first year of the Pac-12 Conference with a young roster that believes it has underachieved the past two seasons.
Cal made four consecutive NCAA tournaments from 2006-09 and posted four straight 20-win seasons for the first time in school history. The Bears lost 81-65 at Colorado in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament last month, finishing with an 18-16 record.
“We definitely were a little bummed about last year,” guard Layshia Clarendon said. “We haven’t done all we wanted to do. Believe was her biggest thing. Believe in her and give her a chance.”
Gottlieb coached at Cal from 2005-08 under Boyle, who made Gottlieb her No. 1 assistant at Richmond when Gottlieb was only 24.
She met with her new players Tuesday and planned to get in the gym Wednesday.
Gottlieb’s goal is for the Bears to become a regular again in the NCAA tournament, a team that challenges for the Sweet Sixteen each season and soon takes the step to the Final Four. One must only look across the bay at powerhouse Stanford for an example.
“Certainly there’s no rebuilding,” Gottlieb said. “Hopefully I can bring some new energy and vision.”
“We don’t have to teach her how to say ‘Go Bears’” quipped athletic director Sandy Barbour.
Boyle left Cal after the Final Four, which would have been a prime time for Barbour to interview candidates for the job. Gottlieb was at the top of the list from the start — and not just because of her familiarity with the program. Barbour reduced the pool to four or five finalists and moved “swiftly” in the process, according to Gottlieb. The mutual interest on both sides didn’t hurt.
“We had great interest in the position,” Barbour said. “Hirings of this import are never no-brainers. There was no doubt Lindsay was the best candidate. Her proximity to us certainly helped (the evaluation process). She had been here and was someone we really cared about. It was certainly the level of success she had but also the manner in which she went about it.”
Gottlieb went 56-39 in three seasons at UCSB, where she led the Gauchos to a pair of postseason berths and two Big West Conference championships. She was the 2009 Big West Conference coach of the year.
UCSB went 19-12 with a 12-4 conference record last season on the way to the program’s second Big West title during Gottlieb’s tenure. The Gauchos lost in the first round of the WNIT to Southern California.
Now, Gottlieb will get settled in and get to work in a hurry. She has two positions to fill on her coaching staff, with Charmin Smith the one assistant expected to stay.
“I was part of a process here that helped elevate Cal to national prominence,” Gottlieb said. “Now it’s my challenge to take the reins and say to this group and this community, ‘We can do even more.’”