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Michelle Smith: As Arizona State's Charli Turner Thorne says 'goodbye', Pac-12 coaches show respect

Mar 4, 2022
Arizona State Athletics

LAS VEGAS - Her Arizona State team won the first Pac-12 Tournament back in 2002 and 20 years later - almost to the day -  Charli Turner Thorne, the second-winningest women’s basketball coach in conference history, was saying goodbye.

Turner Thorne announced her retirement after 25 seasons, 488 victories and 14 NCAA appearances.

The announcement came a day after the Sun Devils were eliminated in the first round of the 2022 Pac-12 Tournament by Oregon State. This had been one of the Sun Devils’ more frustrating seasons. Key injuries, a long COVID pause and a late-season losing streak saddled ASU with a 12-14 record and a 4-9 mark in Pac-12 play.

"After 25 years, it's been my honor to be here and serve," Turner Thorne added. "It's just time. It's just time."

Turner Thorne said Friday morning, after responding to hundreds of texts and messages from colleagues, former players and staff members, that she feels it's time to “do some new and different things.”

“When you know, you know,” she said. “The pandemic has been hard. It’s been hard on my parents and that’s been weighing on me. I never planned on being a lifer and I thought I might have a few more years in me, but these last few years have just burned up everything and I just felt it more. That it was time.”

Turner Thorne said she is a “teacher” at heart and that she hopes to do some teaching and perhaps some broadcasting. 

“I’m excited to see what’s out there,” Turner Thorne, 55, said.

Pac-12 Deputy Commissioner Teresa Gould, who has known Turner Thorne for more than 20 years, applauded Turner Thorne's “strong advocacy for growing women’s basketball, not only in the Pac-12 Conference, but nationally.”

“She is someone who made everyone around her better by constantly raising the bar and fighting for the support and exposure that our women's basketball student-athletes deserve,” Gould said. “And, while her track record of winning and postseason appearances speaks for itself, her real legacy is on display in the lives of the young women that she mentored and developed over the years to be human beings of great character. I wish Charli nothing but the best and will miss working with her."

Turner Thorne was very familiar with NCAA success. Her team made three Sweet 16 appearances and two appearances in the Elite Eight.

Her teams were always known for their relentless defensive pressure, their waves of fresh legs coming off the bench, and an intensity that reflected their head coach to a tee. Her rosters included such elite players as Briann January, Dymond Simon, Danielle Orsillo and Emily Westerberg. It was the program no one wanted to play in a big game. 

Only Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, the sport’s all-time winningest coach, has more Pac-12 wins.

Turner Thorne played for VanDerveer for three seasons when she arrived at Stanford, from 1986-88.

VanDerveer said Friday that no one was more competitive.

“She’s had a great career at ASU, she is a great competitor, a friend and someone that I have really admired for how hard she works and the teams she’s put on the floor,” VanDerveer said. “There is one side of me that thinks of her still as my player and I’m saying ‘What are you doing? Keep coaching.’ But I’m happy for her.”

Here is what some of the other Pac-12 coaches had to say about Turner Thorne’s announcement on Friday:

Arizona's Adia Barnes

“I really respect Charli. She's a really good coach and she's a trailblazer in our profession. I love the fact that she does so many other things. She's a mom and she's successful. She represents our game so well. She's been a WBCA president, so she's very involved in our game. Sad to see her go for sure, but I think she's had a great career.

"So although, I'm surprised. I thought she had a couple more years in her, but you know, this is a hard job. It's extremely stressful. I definitely have aged more this year than I have in awhile. So it's a hard job. It's a blessing to be able to do this job, but it's a lot. It's never, it never ends. You're never in the off-season. So it will be good for her to have a chance to spend some time with her family.“

Colorado's JR Payne

“Congratulations to Charli on an incredible career. She's been a trend-setter for so many of us women in this business. She's always someone that we've looked up to. She's had tremendous success, on court and in the classroom and in their community. She will definitely be missed.”

Oregon State's Scott Rueck

“She and I are both used to winning a lot -- and obviously we haven't won quite as much as we're used to this year.

"And I've always had a great rapport with her. In my first-ever Pac-10 game at the time was at Arizona State. And back then I was trying to figure out how you can be a parent, a spouse and a coach at this level. It was year one for me. And I asked her, because I knew she obviously has a family. And she said it's tough. And there's some tradeoffs that you've got to make.

"So we've shared a similar bond. She and I both have been head coaches for 26 years now. We've got a lot in common. She's made us better. She's a true competitor. And her teams are as tough as they come. Always have been. She has made me a better coach and made our program better by having to rise to that challenge.

"So I am just happy for her. She's done amazing things for this conference. She's a great coach and she's a great person. And I'm just grateful to have the opportunity to compete against her. And I wish her the best and much happiness. She should feel great about everything she's accomplished for sure.”

Oregon's Kelly Graves

“She's a great coach. She's been doing it for a long time. She does it the right way. I think she has a program where you don't see very many people transfer. I think they enjoy playing for her. Great competitor. Her teams are never ones you look forward to playing, ever.

She's had a great life and done just a tremendous job down there. We're going to miss her, for sure. But I always support the coaches in whatever their next journey might be. And I don't know, she's pretty competitive. I have a feeling we might see her on the sideline again. But we are really going to miss her.

ASU, that's where my wife got her degree. It's where my son got his master's degree. So we've always been Arizona State fans to some degree. So we're going to miss her. I wish her the very best, and I'm glad she's happy. I hope she stays happy.”

UCLA's Cori Close

“I was in high school and I went to Tara's first basketball camp when she was coaching at Stanford, her first year. And Charli was a player and a counselor at that camp. That's how long I've known Charli. And Charli has always been about mentoring young women, being tough.

"I think a lot of times in our culture it's been looked down upon for women to be tough and gritty and competitive. She made it cool.

"Her teams were always so tough, so competitive, so physical. And I think that is such an incredible legacy to leave, not only for the women that have played for her but for young girls that got to watch. I know she's always been incredible in extending and kind to me through many, many years.

"We've had, I think about so many conversations we’ve had maybe sitting on the sidelines of watching recruits and doing all those things. And she always had a desire to invest in others. And she can really be proud because she left this game better than she found it.”

Utah's Lynne Roberts

“In terms of Charli, it's hard to imagine Arizona State basketball without her. She is Arizona State women's basketball. She was a great colleague to me when I came in the league a few years ago.

"She's wicked smart and incredibly feisty and competitive. The thing that I always really respected about Charli's teams is they knew their identity and they played to it.

"And they were incredibly hard to beat because of that. And I've told her this, but I think that's probably her personality, too. Incredibly competitive and feisty. Never quit. And we've had some games with them where they just battle.

"So, so much respect for her. She's a legend. And we'll miss her. And it's going to be weird to not see her on the sideline. But I'm happy for her. She's earned it. And go enjoy your family and go play golf or something once in a while, right? Go have some fun.”

Washington State's Kamie Ethridge

“You know, I was surprised by Charli retiring because she's younger than me. And I'm so impressed with her career. She's just won and won and won. She's impacted a program, a university, a community and just countless numbers of lives in young women. And it's unbelievable -- just felt like she had a lot more to do. I'm happy for her. I'm happy that she can move on and be satisfied with her career.

"But clearly she's going to be missed. And she was a big part of this conference for a long time and has been really good to me while I've been in it. But, again, everybody across the country respects Charli and what she's done and accomplished. And it's something that I think we all aspire to, to impact people like she did.”