Lisa Bluder announces retirement as Iowa women’s basketball coach

Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder smiles as she talks with guard Caitlin Clark (22) during practice April 6 in Cleveland. Bluder announced her retirement Monday. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The news, for Kate Martin, came in the middle of a zoom call in which she was celebrating a roster spot with the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces.

“Uh, Kate, it has just been announced that Lisa Bluder has retired.”

Martin’s reaction spoke for everyone.

“What?”

In a shocking turn of events Monday afternoon, Bluder announced her retirement as University of Iowa women’s basketball coach.

“It is with a range of emotions that I share today that I have decided to step down from leading the Iowa women’s basketball team after 24 memorable years,” Bluder said in a statement Monday.

“I informed President (Barbara) Wilson and (athletics director) Beth Goetz of my decision, and I am grateful for their unwavering support and offered them my assistance in any manner in the future.”

Jan Jensen, who has been- Bluder’s top lieutenant throughout the past 24 years, has been named head coach and will be formally introduced Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Bluder, 63, ends her coaching career with a record of 884-396 in 40 years, including 528-254 at Iowa.

“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.

“After the season ended, I spent time with our student-athletes and coaches reviewing the season and preparing those moving on for what comes next. With that also came personal contemplation about what this journey has meant to me, how to best champion this program, and what the future looks like for my family and me. After then taking some time away with my husband, David, it became clear to me that I am ready to step aside.”

Bluder, who made $1.45 million in 2023, leaves Iowa at the zenith of her career. Each of the Hawkeyes’ last two seasons ended in the championship game of the NCAA tournament.

“I’m shocked,” Martin said. “But I’m really happy for her. She’s had an amazing career.”

Shocked, Martin said. So did others.

“I’m shocked,” said Megan Gustafson, the 2019 national player of the year. “I thought maybe this would happen in the next few years, but not yet.

“I saw I had a missed call (from Bluder), so I wondered if something was up.”

A Marion native, Bluder graduated from Linn-Mar High School in 1979, then played at the University of Northern Iowa.

She began her coaching career at St. Ambrose University in 1984, and quickly built the Bees into an NAIA power (they were 34-1 in her final season, 1989-90).

In 1990, she was hired at Drake University. The Bulldogs won three Missouri Valley Conference titles.

Bluder’s first year at Drake coincided with Jensen’s senior year.

Jensen and Jenni Fitzgerald were on Bluder’s Drake staff the following year, then accompanied her to Iowa City in 2000.

“I have been so blessed to have enjoyed an incredible ride with Lisa,” Jensen said Monday in a separate statement from the university. “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.”

Jensen has been Bluder’s chief recruiter and post developer. Now, she steps to the top of the podium.

“I love Jan to death,” Gustafson said. “She deserves this opportunity, and she’s ready for it.”

The Bluder era began in 2000, on the heels of the program’s decline at the end of Angie Lee’s tenure.

Iowa went 21-10 in Bluder’s first year (2000-01), winning the Big Ten tournament.

That team was the first of 18 Iowa squads that reached the NCAA tournament, but the program hit unimaginable heights in the last two seasons.

Bluder landed Caitlin Clark, a five-star prospect out of West Des Moines Dowling, in 2020. Their first season together was in front of tiny crowds due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once fans could return, they did so by the thousands. The 2023-24 season was played in front of sellouts, both at home and on the road.

Iowa reached the 2023 Final Four in Dallas, then stunned unbeaten South Carolina, 77-73, in the semifinals before bowing to LSU in the championship game, 102-85.

The 2023-24 team was ranked in the top five all season and won a school-record 34 games (against five losses). The Hawkeyes won their third straight Big Ten tournament title, were a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament, then made it back to the championship game before South Carolina earned revenge, 87-75.

In the wake of Monday’s news, Bluder’s former players celebrated her career:

Megan Gustafson (Class of 2019)

“I can’t wrap up into one short interview everything she has meant to me. Anybody that played for her will say the same thing: I am forever grateful to her.”

Kathleen Doyle (Class of 2020)

“I thought Coach Bluder would be the Iowa coach for my whole lifetime. To me, she IS Iowa basketball. She values winning so much, but more importantly, she values offcourt lessons and developing confident female leaders. I am forever grateful for those lessons.”

Monika Czinano (Class of 2023)

“I’m really happy for her. I’m sure she’s been thinking on this for a long time, weighing the pros and cons. Her impact on me has been absolutely phenomenal. With Coach Bluder, at Iowa, I felt taken care of.”

Ally Disterhoft (Class of 2017)

“It’s incredible news for two incredible people. Coach Bluder gets to go out on such a high note, and at the same time, Coach (Jensen) stepping in and getting this opportunity, it’s a win-win for everybody. I loved playing for Coach Bluder. She has been a role model for so many. I learned so many lessons about life.”

Jamie Printy Brandt (Class of 2013)

“Playing for Coach Bluder was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I give her a lot of credit for who I am today. She truly is one of the best to ever do it, and I’m proud of everything she has accomplished.”

Comments: jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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