Girls basketball: Terri Ward returns to familiar post at Niwot

This may count as the most appropriate backup plan in the history of coach searches.

As Niwot athletic director Jim Butterfield encountered one frustration after another in his quest to land a new girls basketball coach, much of the venting Butterfield unleashed fell upon the sympathetic ears of the key figure on his search committee, Terri Ward.

There was no person better suited to back Butterfield in the search, given the 20 years Ward had given to the Cougars’ girls basketball program before retiring following the 2009-10 season.

As one round of interviews led to another with no promising candidate emerging, an idea slowly surfaced that maybe, just maybe, Ward could retake the reins of a program she led to 244 victories.

Recently that backup plan became a reality, as Ward has agreed to coach the Cougars for the 2013-14 season. While both Ward and Butterfield are quick to describe the appointment as “interim,” there remains a possibility that Ward could end up on the Cougars’ bench beyond the upcoming campaign.

“She put her heart and soul into this program and she’s a strong expert in women’s basketball,” Butterfield said. “We know the work isn’t done. It takes a special person to coach high school these days. It’s exciting to see that much experience and enthusiasm back in our program.”

Butterfield said he held several rounds of interviews, dating back to last spring through last month, but was unable to settle on a candidate he felt would instill long-term confidence in a program that has fallen on difficult times in the three seasons since Ward’s departure.

For her part, Ward indicated she was swayed by the possibility of building her own coaching staff for her upcoming one-season return — a project that mostly has been fulfilled. While specific coaching assignments have yet to be finalized, Ward said she already has filled out much of her coaching staff with Jen Albert, Carrie Adams, Randy Haisfield, and Megan Zwart, all of whom have worked with Ward in the past. Albert and Zwart both played for Ward at Niwot, and Albert was a two-year team captain at Arizona State.

“I think it was after the last round of interviews that I realized I couldn’t not do it,” said Ward, who was a freshman at Niwot when the school opened in 1972. “At first I said I’d help with the preseason and conditioning until they could get someone in place. But then (Albert) and I were having breakfast one Sunday and she said, ‘Terri, you just have to do it.’ I was enjoying being retired but Jen said, ‘I’ll help you.'”

Assuming Ward stays at the helm just one season — though Butterfield added “I’m not running anyone out the door, and if she wants another 10 to 15 years that’s fine with me,” — the veteran coach faces a daunting challenge getting her beloved Niwot program back on track.

Former coach Clark Burton, who worked under Ward and took over the program after she retired, went 7-14 in his first season in 2010-11 before the Cougars struggled to three-win campaigns in each of the past two seasons. That means the Cougars have enjoyed only three more victories in the past three seasons than they recorded in their final season under Ward.

“We’re just trying to get some stability,” Ward said. “I don’t want to knock Clark and I don’t know what happened. To be honest, I think I watched two games in the last three seasons. I knew it would be tough for anyone to follow me and I don’t know what went wrong.

“The only thing we’re doing now is trying to get them to realize they have to work hard. We have to be in the weight room and the gym every day. It’s fun to be back. I think these kids are excited to have this group of coaches working on this.”

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