Louisiana State scored a major women’s basketball coup on Sunday when it hired Kim Mulkey, who won three national championships in 21 years at Baylor, as its new coach.
Mulkey’s move is perhaps the most significant coaching change in women’s college basketball in recent years, sending one of the country’s top coaches to one of the deepest leagues, the Southeastern Conference. The fiercely competitive SEC, long a standard-bearer in women’s basketball, sent seven teams to the N.C.A.A. tournament this spring and one, South Carolina, to the Final Four.
In an appearance on the L.S.U. campus on Monday, one day after she decided to leave Baylor, Mulkey noted the storied history of the college’s women’s basketball program but its dearth of national titles, and she warned that it could take time to build a contender. L.S.U. made five consecutive Final Fours from 2004 to 2008, but it has not returned since.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Mulkey said. “Let me remind you, rabid L.S.U. fans that can be crazy and want coaches fired tomorrow: Give it time, give it time. But I can assure you that’s what I came here to do.”
Mulkey, 58, is returning to her roots. She grew up in Louisiana, where she was a four-time state champion at Hammond High School and won two national championships as a player at Louisiana Tech. She began her college coaching career at her alma mater, then went 632-104 at Baylor.
“Kim Mulkey is a champion and a Hall of Famer, and we are thrilled to welcome her home,” said Scott Woodward, the L.S.U. athletic director. In a recognition of Mulkey’s ties to the state — and of the cultural significance of her hiring — Gov. John Bel Edwards attended the pyrotechnics-infused news conference and pep rally on Monday evening, when she pledged her allegiance to crawfish and the famed strawberries of Ponchatoula, a city in her home parish.
Mulkey’s playing achievements — which include an Olympic gold medal in 1984 — were followed by an equally sterling coaching record. After serving as an assistant at Louisiana Tech, she became the head coach at Baylor in 2000. The team was coming off a 7-20 season and had never made the N.C.A.A. tournament.
She led the Bears to national titles in 2005, 2012 and 2019. Mulkey’s teams made one other Final Four, and 11 additional trips to the round of 16. Baylor made the N.C.A.A. tournament every year but one during her tenure.
Her 2011-12 championship team, led by Brittney Griner, was the best of the lot, finishing 40-0.
“She reminded me a lot of my dad — strict and fair,” Griner said at the time of Mulkey’s coaching style. “There are no favorites. There is no sugarcoating. She tells you how it is and doesn’t hide anything.”
The only woman to win an N.C.A.A. basketball championship as a player, as an assistant and as a head coach, Mulkey was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2020.
“We are grateful for the more than two decades Kim Mulkey poured into building Baylor women’s basketball to one of the nation’s premier programs,” Baylor’s athletic director, Mack B. Rhoades IV, said.
In 2019, Mulkey took her championship team to the White House, the first women’s team honored in its own right by President Donald J. Trump.
“Would you like to work at the White House, by any chance?” Trump asked her. “No,” Mulkey replied. “We’ll take you,” he said. “We need the help.”
Asked Monday about her meeting with Baylor’s players about her departure, she said, “All I could tell them was I was going home, that I was going home, and that I loved them and that I hoped that they could understand and not be angry at me.”
Mulkey’s success earned her a $2.27 million a year contract at Baylor, and L.S.U. was reported to be exceeding that figure to lure her away. The L.S.U. men’s coach, Will Wade, makes $2.5 million.
“This is the one thing that I don’t ever see changing — because they will always use the analogy, ‘Well, women’s basketball doesn’t generate the revenue’ — salaries,” Mulkey said this year. “You’ve got women’s basketball coaches — and you can name them — while they’re well compensated in comparison to other women’s coaches, they have done more for the game of basketball than their male counterparts. But I bet those male counterparts make more money. That’s the thing that I’m not sure any time in my lifetime that you will ever see change.”
Mulkey again comes to a team in need of a turnaround. In eight seasons under Nikki Fargas, L.S.U. made two appearances in the round of 16. In 2020-21, it was 9-13. Fargas resigned on Saturday.
By then, Mulkey acknowledged, L.S.U. had already made her an offer.
Alan Blinder and Gillian R. Brassil contributed reporting.