“In arriving at the decision to retire, this time, personal reasons have won out over professional ones,” Melissa McFerrin said in the release detailing her retirement as coach of the University of Memphis women's basketball program. (Images: screen capture, courtesy photo)

“It is time for a new season in my life,” according to Melissa McFerrin, who has retired as head coach of the University of Memphis women’s basketball program.

McFerrin’s mid-season decision was announced Sunday by UofM Director of Athletics Lair Veatch. The move brings her 13th season to an abrupt halt. Associate Head Coach Michelle Savage will guide the team through the remainder of the 2020-21 season. A national search for a permanent head coach will be conducted at the conclusion of the season.

“In arriving at the decision to retire, this time, personal reasons have won out over professional ones,” McFerrin said in the release detailing her retirement. “I have coached my entire career with personal and professional goals in alignment. … But things change over time.

Melissa McFerrin shouts instructions during the Tigers’ game against East Carolina (Feb. 6). (Photo: Terry Davis)

“I remained at Memphis the past two seasons to see the renovation of Elma Roane Fieldhouse completed and to coach a group of young women in which I have a tremendous belief.”

Memphis is 4-10 overall and 2-7 in the American Athletic Conference this season. The Tigers are scheduled to return the court on Wednesday (Feb. 17.) against Wichita State. Their game scheduled for Monday (Feb. 15) has been canceled because of inclement weather.

“Coach McFerrin notified me of her decision this morning, and I want to thank her for her dedication to coaching Memphis women’s basketball for many years,” said Veatch. “She had a long career coaching the Tigers, and we all wish her nothing but the best in her future endeavors.”

McFerrin won the third-most games in Memphis history, with a record of 193-199. The Tigers made four-straight tournament appearances from 2010-13. In her second season (2009-10), the Tigers went 20-14 and reached the WBI finals. In 2010-11, McFerrin led the Tigers to a 21-13 record, the program’s most wins since 1998-99. Memphis went 25-8 the next season and finished runner-up in the Conference USA regular-season standings and earned a WNIT bid.

In Memphis’ third year in the American Athletic Conference (2015-16), the Tigers went 18-13 overall and 12-6 in AAC play, making another WNIT appearance. In 2016-17, Memphis defeated Vanderbilt for the first time in almost 30 years and defeated No. 20 USF for the second-straight season. The next year, the Tigers won at Vanderbilt for the first time in program history.

In April 2019, McFerrin agreed to a two-year contract extension. The backdrop included a finding that associated a “negative culture and atmosphere” with the basketball program. An outside investigation called for by the university had been launched earlier that year when nine former players complained of an abusive environment they attributed to her. Several other former players stepped forward in her defense.

What now is McFerrin’s final Memphis team entered the season with the excitement of a renovated arena,  the loss of only one senior and a chance to show growth from last year’s injury-riddled season.

Said McFerrin at the onset of the season: “We expect to participate in the postseason this year, and nothing less will be accepted.”

A glance at McFerrin’s hoops journey:

  • A native of Cassville, Mo., McFerrin was a four-year letter winner and starting point guard for the University of Missouri (1979-83). She had 243-269 overall record in her 17-year career as a head coach.
  • Prior to anchoring at Memphis, she coached four years at American University, leading the Eagles to the 2007 Patriot League Tournament championship game in her third season. Her 2007-08 team won the Patriot League regular-season title and an WNIT appearance, finishing with an 18-14 overall record.
  • Before her time at American University, McFerrin was an associate head coach at the University of Minnesota (2002-04). McFerrin’s time at Minnesota came after a five-year association with the WNBA, including assistant coaching stops with the New York Liberty (1997-99) and the Washington Mystics (1999-2000), taking over as the Mystics’ general manager in 2000.
  • McFerrin began her coaching career as a graduate assistant at Wayland Baptist University in Texas (1983-84) season before being hired as an assistant coach at Central’s Michigan University. Later (1990), she moved on to The Ohio State as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.

(The New Tri-State Defender intern Liaudwin Seaberry Jr., who reports on the University of Memphis women’s basketball team, contributed to the development of this story.)