Iowa women’s basketball head coach Lisa Bluder retiring; associate Jan Jensen takes over

IOWA CITY − Legendary University of Iowa head women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder announced her retirement Monday afternoon while handing the keys to the program to longtime associate head coach Jan Jensen, a stunning development for a program basking in the limelight of two consecutive national title game appearances.

“It has been the honor of my career to be a part of the Iowa Hawkeye family, and to lead a women’s basketball program filled with so many talented and remarkable young women, who have gone on to do great things in their careers and, more importantly, in their lives,” Bluder said in a UI news release. “There is no better person to lead this program than Jan Jensen and I am thrilled she will have the opportunity to build on the foundation established.

“I’m committed to help her, and her staff, in whatever capacity they need moving forward.”

Bluder retires after 40 seasons coaching women’s college basketball, including the last 24 at Iowa. She finishes with 884 career wins (714 at the Division I level) and two Final Four trips, both of which arrived in her final two seasons with superstar Caitlin Clark at the controls. It’ll be as natural a transition as possible, though, with Jensen now in charge after 30 years on Bluder’s staff across two different stops.

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“It is bittersweet news for all of us who love the University of Iowa and who have incredible admiration and respect for what Coach Bluder has accomplished and for how she did it,” Iowa athletics director Beth Goetz said in the release. “Lisa has left an indelible mark on this program, touched countless lives, and brought joy to all who know and love the Hawkeyes. Words can’t appropriately express the gratitude I share with so many for the impact she has made on the game of women’s basketball and the University of Iowa.

“While we are saddened that she will no longer lead our young women on the court, we are thankful for what she has given to all of us and are comforted knowing she will continue to be our biggest champion and fan.”

Bluder’s coaching path has been a lesson in perseverance and consistency. The Marion native and University of Northern Iowa graduate never left the state of Iowa as coach. She started with humble National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics beginnings at St. Ambrose (1984-90) before dominating at Drake (1990-2000) and eventually closing with an incredible finish leading the Hawkeyes (2000-24).

Bluder’s list of accomplishments is lengthy: two Final Fours with two title-game appearances, five Big Ten Tournament titles, two shared Big Ten regular-season titles, three times named Big Ten coach of the year (2001, 2008, 2010) and one season as the Naismith national coach of the year (2019). At Drake, Bluder led the Bulldogs to four Missouri Valley Conference Tournament titles (1995, 1997-98, 2000) and three MVC regular-season titles (1997-98, 2000.

Bluder retires as the all-time winningest coach in Big Ten history (262-145), while piling up 528 wins leading the Hawkeyes. Her Iowa teams made the postseason in 22 of her 24 seasons, including 14 of the last 16 NCAA Tournaments.

Kate Martin, a star on Iowa’s recent teams and a member of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, posted Monday on X (formerly Twitter): “Extremely grateful to have been coached by Bluder and I’m so happy for her. If you know Bluder, you know that wasn’t an easy decision for her. I am even more excited about (Jensen) to take over this amazing program. Iowa women’s basketball is in great hands.”

Under Bluder’s guidance, Clark and Megan Gustafson were named national player of the year a combined three times, with two others named consensus all-Americans. Three players were named Big Ten player of the year (Clark, Gustafson and Kathleen Doyle), while a total of 65 Hawkeyes earned All-Big Ten honors. Seventeen former Hawkeyes went on to play professionally.

“Simply no one better at building a team,” Clark, now a member of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, posted on X. “Thank you for believing in me more than anyone. Enjoy retirement, coach. Very much deserved.”

A focus on relationships was at the core of Bluder’s tenure as the Hawkeyes’ head coach. When Bluder and her staff scouted top high school players, they watched how they reacted when they were not playing and were not in the spotlight. Did they support their teammates from the bench? Did they have a love for the game and those around them?

That focus on teamwork helped nurture a family bond. Recruiting high-character people was part of it. Having the same coaches in place for more than two decades helped nurture a culture and cohesion that allowed the Hawkeyes to thrive when thrust into the national spotlight in recent seasons.

Another strength: Bluder’s easy-going, joyful and funny disposition. She was known to show up for practice around Halloween decked out in full costume; last year she was “Barbie Bluder.”

“We genuinely have 14 girls who want to be here every day, who want to show up and play basketball,” Martin said last season. “And we love each other. It doesn’t make it hard to just play with joy and have a smile on your face. It should be fun. It shouldn’t feel like a job.”

Jensen’s promotion to head coach marks a significant step in her lengthy coaching career. Her first season as a head coach will come in her 25th season inside the Iowa program. After a decorated playing career at Drake, Jensen began her coaching career at her alma mater in 1993 as an assistant under Bluder. It was an easy choice to bring Jensen along to Iowa when Bluder got the job in 2000, and the two — along with longtime assistant Jenni Fitzgerald — kept the winning train rolling.

Jensen is considered one of the best in the nation at coaching post players (centers and forwards), and Iowa has churned out a number of superstars in the post on Jensen’s watch. A native of Kimballton in western Iowa, Jensen was named Division I national assistant coach of the year in 2023.

“I have been so blessed to have enjoyed an incredible ride with Lisa,” Jensen said in a UI release. “That ride started when I was her player and continued for 33 years as I had the privilege to work alongside of her. I can’t thank Lisa enough for her mentorship, leadership, and most of all her friendship. I am so proud of all we accomplished and grateful for all the memories we created.

“I am now beyond elated to begin my new role and want to thank (UI) president (Barbara) Wilson and Beth (Goetz) for the opportunity to lead this program. I truly love the University of Iowa and I am profoundly honored and excited to continue building on our success. The support we have in every realm from our administration, donors, alumni and fans is unmatched, and I am so proud to be a part of this special university.”

Moving Jensen into the lead role takes a step toward ensuring that the culture and cohesion that have been the pillars of Iowa women’s basketball under Bluder aren’t disrupted.

“This program has always been about family, and the contributions to its incredible culture are shared by alums, current, student-athletes and the entire staff,” Goetz said. “One of those contributors has been in the team circle for 24 years as a tireless recruiter, skilled teacher of the game, and charismatic personality that has endeared her to the Hawkeye community. Coach Jensen has been an instrumental part of our success, assisting in all aspects of the program.

“After several conversations with Coach Bluder and President Wilson over the last few days, it is clear that everything that we are seeking in a head coach, we have found right here.”

Chad Leistikow contributed to this report.

Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.

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