Kim Mulkey has won at every stop in her career, but it meant the most at LSU (2024)

The Louisiana governor was in the house the day Kim Mulkey came home. This was April of 2021, and she was being introduced as the new LSU women’s basketball coach, leaving behind the trophy assembly line she had created at Baylor to take a crack at building something in her native state.

A crowd was there to welcome the woman from Tickfaw, a town with a population less than two sections of the Tigers’ basketball arena. Hanging nearby were the five banners of past LSU trips to the women’s Final Four. The perfect prop for what she wanted to say to the assembly.

“I made a statement and asked everybody to turn around and look at those Final Four banners. Nowhere on there did it say 'national champions.’ And that’s what I came home to do.”

That was Mulkey on Sunday, two years later, the deed done and the vow fulfilled. Quickly.

🏆: Relive how LSU beat Iowa for the 2023 national title

This isn’t about one victory, though that was kind of big, seeing as LSU had never seen a basketball national championship before — men or women — and they love winning in the Bayou as much as they love their gumbo.

No, this is about sheer... tonnage. Victories stacked by the hundreds, and next to that tower of success, a small little anthill of defeat.

This is not just about where Kim Mulkey was Sunday afternoon, on the national championship podium with her LSU Tigers, the ladies who had stared down the business end of Caitlin Clark and scored 102 points. That had been the goal all along, just like at Baylor, only this one felt different.

“Yes,” she said, “it does matter being home.”

This is about where she almost always is — her score on the left side of the hyphen, the spot the winning number is supposed to go.

We can talk about Mulkey, the high school player in Louisiana, where she went 136-5. And class valedictorian at 4.0, too, meaning she had five defeats and zero B’s.

Or Mulkey, the college player at Louisiana Tech where her career record was 130-6. And graduated summa cum laude, which is Greek for is there anything this woman can’t do?

Or Mulkey, the Olympian. Team USA went 6-0 for the 1984 gold and 5-0 in the Pan-American Games.

Or Mulkey, the assistant coach at her alma mater. That record was 430-68.

Or Mulkey, the head coach and juggernaut-builder at Baylor, going 632-104 with three national championships.

Kim Mulkey has won at every stop in her career, but it meant the most at LSU (1)

And now Mulkey, the program magician at LSU, a national champion in her second year and 60-8. The year before she landed in Baton Rouge, the Tigers were 9-13.

Punch in all these numbers and what do you get?

A record of 1,399 wins and 191 losses every time she has stepped on the basketball floor is... something. That’s an 87.99 winning percentage. You wonder how she is at post-loss talks in the locker room, being so inexperienced at the job.

One message was loud and clear from the doings in Dallas this week.

Kim Mulkey can win. Given a little help, she can win big. Given the modern trappings of college basketball — NIL, transfer portal, etc. — she can win big in a hurry. LSU reached the podium Sunday via the express lane.

Was that something to get teary about? Oh, yes.

“With about 1:30 to go, I couldn’t hold it. I got very emotional,” she said. “That’s really not like me until the buzzer goes off, but I knew we were going to hold on and win this game. I don’t know if it’s the mere fact that we’re doing this in my second year back home. I don’t know if it was the fact I am home. I don’t know if I was looking across there at my daughter and my grandchildren. I don’t know if I was looking across at LSU. I don’t know what it was, but I lost it.

“So that should tell you what I think about it.”

The day before, she had tried to describe what went into this blastoff from the Baton Rouge launching pad in only two years.

“What I didn’t realize is the brand. Those three letters, LSU, they don’t mean anything else but Louisiana State University and it’s an international brand. What I didn’t realize is how the portal is going to help you quicker than before we had the portal. The timing of me going to LSU, I had no clue of the impact that NIL was going to have at the major Power 5 conferences.

“That’s the world we live in now but I didn’t know the impact of that when I left. I thought, oh boy, I’m fixing to start all over. But it’s a lot easier than I thought it would be because of NIL and the LSU brand.”

Hence, a powerhouse went up inside of two years.

“I don’t want to use the world powerhouse,” she had said on Saturday. “We’ve won games, we have not won championships.”

Now they have. Clark scored 30 for Iowa but that wasn’t going to be anywhere near sufficient as LSU shot 54 percent and outscored the Hawkeyes 30-8 in bench points. Also Clark had some foul trouble.

HISTORY: Every Women's Final Four Most Outstanding Player since 1982

There had been a moment or two during the week that Mulkey’s long journey came into focus. The banners of past national champions were on display in the American Airlines Center, and she gazed up one day to see all those that carried her footprints.

“Kim,” she thought to herself, “you’re getting old.”

And when it was over Sunday, she could reflect on how it all began.

“I was never going to be a coach. I got talked into it by the president of Louisiana Tech University, Dr. F.J. Taylor. He started the program over there and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Thank God he didn’t. He knew more what I was supposed to do than I did.”

It didn’t take long for her to realize he was right. She had the knowledge, the passion, the fire. Yeah, about the fire. LSU had some early turnovers Sunday. The coach didn’t care for them.

“I think we’ve got a locker room full of kids who like tough love. I don’t have a locker room of a bunch of passive ones,” she said. “They will tell you how they feel. They will talk trash on the floor. You have to be a very strong coach to coach this many personalities. I don’t have a problem getting in their face. I called the first timeout (after the turnovers) and we didn’t come over there singing Kumbaya.”

She sent the Tigers back out to take over the game and finish the mission. Soon, Mulkey had her 60th win at LSU and 692nd win as a head coach and 1,399th win on a basketball court and fourth national title as a head coach. A record as glittering as her Sunday outfit

“I know you all look at what I wear,” she had said to the media about the Mulkey collection of bench outfits that has become an NCAA tournament fascination. “But after you see what I wear you need to be watching the floor and what the coaches are doing.”

In her case, whatever she’s doing, just assume it’s in a winning cause. Don’t even need to look at the scoreboard. You’re right 87.99 percent of the time.


🍿 2024 MARCH MADNESS: South Carolina wins 2024 title |View the final bracket

🏆 HISTORY: Title winners | Winningest coaches| Winningest programs| Final Four Most Outstanding Players

Kim Mulkey has won at every stop in her career, but it meant the most at LSU (2024)
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