Lady Bears Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton is leaving to coach at the University of Virginia. In three sparkling seasons, Coach Mox led MSU to a 74-15 record. (Photo by Kevin White/Missouri State University Creative Services)

OPINION |

When a Missouri State basketball coach leaves for a new job, it usually evokes at least a hint of surprise. Not this time. Not after what Amaka Agugua-Hamilton had accomplished in a short period of time.

When news broke about 9 a.m. Monday that “Coach Mox” was the new women’s basketball coach at Virginia, it was hardly a shocker. Agugua-Hamilton had a sparkling 74-15 record in three seasons with two NCAA Tournament appearances and, if not for COVID-19, it would have been three NCAAs.

The only surprise here would have been if Agugua-Hamilton did not receive and accept an offer to advance her career at a Power 5 conference school. It was not a matter of if or when as much as where.

Virginia out of the Atlantic Coast Conference makes perfect sense as it is like a homecoming for Agugua-Hamilton, a native of Herndon, Virginia. Missouri State Lady Bears fans surely knew Saturday’s narrow NCAA Tournament loss to Ohio State was her last game at MSU and should wish her the best after three sensational seasons.

She was a home-run hire by Missouri State Director of Athletics Kyle Moats and President Clif Smart three years ago after Kellie Harper — another home run hire — returned to her alma mater of Tennessee after guiding the Lady Bears to the Sweet 16.

The price of success at the mid-major level, unfortunately, is the likelihood of losing your head coach. It’s the same on the men’s side where coaches use success as a springboard to bigger paychecks at schools in major conferences, where you don’t have to sweat out NCAA Selection Sunday if you fail to win your league tournament.

While it’s tough to lose a talented head coach, this is a cycle that fans should embrace. If you’re looking for a replacement every three or four years, it’s probably because the coach has achieved great things. 

So for those who mourn the departure of “Coach Mox,” celebrate the success and embrace the future. This program, whose foundation was built three decades ago by the great Cheryl Burnett, is stronger than ever after the work of Harper and Agugua-Hamilton.

What’s next? This job will have absolutely no problem attracting dozens or outstanding applicants. And with coaching searches, the eventual choice often is someone who’s not obvious at the beginning of the search process.

Among prospects is hometown favorite

But there is perhaps one name that stands out as the search begins. She’s a hometown favorite, a ball girl for the Lady Bears during the Burnett era, a star player at Kickapoo High School and Drury University. Later, she became head coach at Drury and guided the Lady Panthers to a 180-17 record in six seasons.

Molly Miller

Molly Miller left Drury two years ago to take on Division I coaching at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. A program with little women’s basketball tradition, Miller is 40-17 in two seasons at Grand Canyon, including 22-10 this season in leading the Lady Lopes to their first DI postseason berth in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

If Missouri State doesn’t pursue Miller — who employs an upbeat playing style paired with an up-tempo personality — others soon will. It just makes too much sense.

Miller knows the importance of women’s basketball in the Springfield community and will embrace it. She is the one coach who might break the pattern of this being a stepping-stone job and stick around longer than three or four years.

We should know soon. Don’t expect this to be a lengthy search.

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, co-hosts The Sports Reporters on Jock 96.9 FM, 99.9 FM and 1060 AM on Monday mornings with Ned Reynolds and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton