Niele Ivey is coming home.
Ivey was introduced as the new coach of the Notre Dame women’s basketball team on Thursday, succeeding her mentor, Muffet McGraw, who retired a day earlier.
“Those are big heels to fill,” Ivey said during an online news conference. “When you follow a legend, it’s not easy. But I want to be myself. Always be true to myself, try to stay as authentic as I can.”
The 42-year-old, who got emotional at times during the news conference while sitting with her son, Jaden, has been preparing for this job for much of her adult life. She helped lead the Fighting Irish to a national championship as the point guard in 2001 and was an assistant coach on the Notre Dame team that won the title in 2018. She was on the Memphis Grizzlies staff last year after 17 seasons at Notre Dame.
“I am thrilled Niele will be the next leader of the Notre Dame basketball program,” said McGraw, who spent 33 years as the head coach of the Irish before retiring Wednesday. “She’s one of the best young coaches in the game today, and her success with the Grizzlies has helped make her even more prepared for her new role.”
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said the succession plan was first discussed about two years ago and that no one else was considered for the job.
“As long as Niele remained interested and available, whenever Muffet made that decision, this was the path we’d move in,” he said.
McGraw described her protege as charismatic.
“She’s someone that people are attracted to. A smile that lights up the gym,” she said. “So fun to be around. Can flip the switch and be serious and intense as anyone in the gym.”
Ivey was one of the most sought-after assistant coaches in women’s basketball, but she never took any of the jobs, saying she didn’t want to uproot her son when he was in high school. He’s headed to college in the fall.
When the Grizzlies offered her an assistant coaching position last year, McGraw told her she couldn’t turn it down. Ivey left a big mark on the NBA team in her one season.
“She’s about to go crazy at Notre Dame. I can tell this is something that really is a good fit for her. … Everything she’s done this season to prep us for a game, help us on our game,” Memphis guard Jaren Jackson Jr. said. “She’s unreal, and I’m just really happy for her.”
Ivey said she’s learned a lot from McGraw and that the biggest difference between the two is that the new coach is more “warm and fuzzy”.
“I’m used to being in that role,” she said. “I just show my emotions a little more than she does. That would be the difference. Philosophy, I had so much knowledge being under coach McGraw, you’ll see a lot of the same style of play as coach McGraw’s system.”
Ivey, who is just the fourth coach in school history, inherits a team that was 13-18 last season — only the second losing season under McGraw.