By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Maryann Mitts succeeded Amy Townsend as Missouri Southern women’s basketball coach in April 2001.
Ironically, it was a phone call from Townsend and meeting two Missouri Southern alums who helped keep Mitts in the coaching profession.
“I was contemplating getting out of coaching (after three years as an assistant and three years as head coach at Rockhurst, her alma mater),” Mitts said. “I actually was working to go into insurance. I get a call from Amy Townsend saying that this young couple (former Lion Lyndsey Kenealy and her husband Paul Perry) was moving to Kansas City and she wanted to coach, and she wanted to help me coach. I had a position on my staff at the time, and I took what I found out was both of them. I got a package deal.
“I truly believe those two young people coming into my life, helping me coach that year at Rockhurst ... I was able to know through their contacts that the job was probably going to open a little earlier than most people knew. And I was able to get my resume on (women’s athletics director) Sallie Beard’s desk the day that Amy Townsend was released. I think having my resume on her desk that very first day gave me a little advantage over everyone else.”
One of Mitts’ losses at Rockhurst was 69-60 to Missouri Southern on Dec. 30, 1999, in the first women’s game in the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center. The next season Rockhurst opened its season with a 64-58 victory at Missouri Southern, and Mitts made a comment to Lions radio broadcaster Ron Fauss that proved prophetic.
“I told Ron after he interviewed me that if this job ever opens, I’d love to have it,” Mitts said. “He went and told Sallie Beard that.”
Less than five months later, Mitts was hired by Beard.
In her 12th season as the Lions’ coach, Mitts gave multiple reasons that attracted her to the job.
“I had been here as an opposing coach, and I found an attraction to the people here,” Mitts said. “I knew Sallie Beard, and I knew that when we came here, we got treated very well.
“I knew they were a program that was struggling, and I wanted to coach in the MIAA. To me, coaching in the MIAA is the pinnacle — the best Division II league then and it’s even more phenomenal now. I respected the coaches in the league. I had played against Dave Slifer in the NAIA and I had played against Gene Steinmeyer. To me, being able to coach against those two guys in particular was something at the age of 30 I thought would be pretty special.”
One of the players Mitts inherited at MSSU was senior Katie Gariss Marsh.
“Honestly it went as smoothly as I think any transition could,” she said. “I appreciated Coach Townsend and all she did for us. Coach Mitts has such an infectious personality. She’s able to really bring along people and make them believe in her and her methodology of doing things. ... I’m really thankful that she came and I at least had that one year with her.”