Mar 25, 2024

Candi Whitaker leaving MWSU for North Alabama, reuniting with Josh Looney

Posted Mar 25, 2024 9:36 PM
Former MWSU athletic director Josh Looney (left) hired Candi Whitaker (right) at Missouri Western in April 2019. Looney left for North Alabama in August 2021. Stock photo via MWSU athletics.
Former MWSU athletic director Josh Looney (left) hired Candi Whitaker (right) at Missouri Western in April 2019. Looney left for North Alabama in August 2021. Stock photo via MWSU athletics.


St. Joseph Post

Candi Whitaker will coach women's basketball at the Division I level again.

Whitaker, who had led Missouri Western women's basketball since 2019, will become the next head coach at the University of North Alabama.

The news was made official in press releases by both schools late Monday afternoon.

"Coach Whitaker informed me of her decision and I am so appreciative of her character, class and leadership," MWSU Director of Athletics Andy Carter said in a statement.

"She truly made an impact at Missouri Western, elevating our program back to where it belongs in the national spotlight. I know Griffon Nation wishes her and her family the best in their new role."

North Alabama, located in Florence, Alabama, is a member of the ASUN Conference and became a Division I program in 2018 after more than 50 years as a DII institution.

North Alabama athletic director Josh Looney was Missouri Western's A.D. from 2017-2021.

It was Looney who hired Whitaker at Missouri Western in April 2019.

"We're bringing a difference maker to North Alabama with the addition of Coach Whitaker," Looney in a written statement. "Candi is a talented coach whose leadership impact expands beyond her basketball program. I'm fortunate to have worked alongside Candi previously and experienced her championship approach to program building."

"From her positive interactions as a role model for the women in her program, to her influence and engagement with University colleagues and the community at large, Coach Whitaker will make a difference at UNA and her family will be an asset to the Shoals community. We're excited to welcome Candi, (husband) Matt, (and children) Westin, William, and Callahan to The Pride!"

Whitaker, a Canyon, Texas native, had great success with the Griffons, leading them to a 100-47 record during her tenure, including a 73-39 mark in the MIAA.

Whitaker led Missouri Western to four 2o-plus win seasons in five years in St. Joseph, including a minimum 24 wins in each of the last three seasons.

"This is a bittersweet day," Whitaker said. "I am excited about the opportunity ahead, but this was a decision that was very difficult for me, Matt and the boys. Missouri Western reignited my passion for coaching and for that I will be forever grateful."

"These past five years have been special. The MWSU staff, the St. Joseph community and our players brought to life all the things that the coaching profession should be. Our on-court success is a direct byproduct of our support system."

Whitaker led the Griffons to a Central Region championship and Elite Eight appearance in 2022. She led Western to an MIAA regular season title in 2024, and was named MIAA Coach of the Year this year as well.

Whitaker's career record in 16 years as a head coach is 231-225. She got her head coaching start just down the road at UMKC, taking over the Roos at age 26 in 2006.

She led UMKC to a 22-win season and WNIT berth in 2012. Whitaker accumulated 83 wins at UMKC, becoming that program's second most winningest coach.

She became associate head coach at Oklahoma State the following year and was then named the head coach at her alma mater, Texas Tech, in 2013.

After a little more than four seasons in Lubbock, Whitaker was fired by Tech on New Year's Day 2018. She was 54-82 in her time with the Lady Raiders, including a 13-61 mark in Big 12 play.

After taking a little more than a year off from coaching, Whitaker was hired by Western in April 2019, where she had instant success. She led Western to a 21-8 campaign in the 2019-20 season.

After only six wins in a COVID-riddled 2020-21 campaign, Whitaker engineered one of the most impressive turnarounds in Missouri Western history, leading the Griffons to a 24-win season and a Central Region championship the following year.

Whitaker led Western to a 24-7 mark in 2022-23. That team finished third in the MIAA, but still missed the NCAA tournament.

Whitaker's team in 2023-24 won the MIAA regular season championship outright  - the first time the Griffons had done that since 2016.

Missouri Western won its last 14 games of the regular season this year. The Griffons lost to Pittsburg State in the MIAA tournament semifinals, and then lost to Minnesota State in the first round of the NCAA tournament this month in Bethany, Oklahoma.

Following the loss to Minnesota State, Whitaker said on Missouri Western's Hey Coach! Show at Hi-Ho Bar and Grill on March 18, "I'm fortunate to have come up here, not knowing if I wanted to coach again or not, and really enjoying my time."

"It's because of our players and support at Missouri Western. For me, everything is about my family and trying to win. Those are my two focuses, and it's been good here."

North Alabama athletics put out a press release on March 11, saying former coach Missy Tiber's contract would not be renewed.

Tiber guided UNA to a 172-147 record over 11 seasons. The Lions went 12-18 this past year.

"My family and I could not be more excited to join the UNA family and the Shoals community," Whitaker said. "I was blown away by the campus and the city of Florence on my first visit. The community support and the rapid growth of UNA's campus and success makes it an exciting time to be a Lion."

I'd like to thank President Ken Kitts, Dr. Josh Looney and the hiring committee for this opportunity, and I am ready to get to work."

Whitaker told Griffon Sports Insider in March 2022 that before Looney offered her the job at Missouri Western, "Ultimately, I didn't know if I wanted to coach again. So, I felt like until I coach again, I won't know if I want to coach again. So, I took the job."

Whitaker helped Texas Tech to back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances as a player from 2000-02. She started and played in all 64 games over two seasons under head coach Marsha Sharp while totaling 232 points, 249 assists and 87 steals.

Prior to playing at Texas Tech, Whitaker played two seasons at Seward County Community College where she averaged 10.2 points and 10.8 assists and was named Honorable Mention NJCAA All-American.

Whitaker's 577 career assists at Seward County is still a record and she ranks third all-time with 225 steals.

Whitaker graduated from Texas Tech in 2002 with a degree in Exercise Sports Science and earned her Master's in Sports Administration at Valparaiso in 2004. She and her husband, Matt, have three sons, Westin, William and Callahan.  

As for Missouri Western, a national search is underway, as Carter seeks Whitaker's successor.

"I couldn't be more excited about the trajectory of our program," Carter said. "The stage is set for us to continue an upward trend. Coach Whitaker's legacy is now a valued part of our history, and our story is still being written."

"Consider this next chapter the start of our national search. We anticipate an elite-level pool of potential candidates. We will be diligent and deliberate in finding the right fit who will continue our momentum."

Missouri Western women's basketball won the MIAA regular season championship outright in the 2023-24 season. Photo by A.J. Robbins.
Missouri Western women's basketball won the MIAA regular season championship outright in the 2023-24 season. Photo by A.J. Robbins.

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