Portland resigns from Penn St. post

Posted: March 23, 2007

Penn State announced the resignation of women's basketball coach Rene Portland early yesterday on the university's Web site.

Her decision concludes a 27-year career in State College that featured 606 wins. It was also filled with controversy involving allegations that she discriminated against lesbian players.

Portland, who played on Immaculata's national champions in the early 1970s, submitted her resignation Wednesday night to Penn State athletic director Tim Curley. He said a nationwide search for a new coach would begin immediately.

The former coach did not attend a news conference yesterday at Beaver Stadium. Asked about her whereabouts, Curley responded, "I can't answer that specific question. I don't know where she's located right now."

Portland's decision came several months after an out-of-court settlement in February involving former player Jennifer Harris, who claimed Portland dismissed her from the squad in March 2005 as part of the coach's "no-lesbian" policy.

Harris, who transferred to James Madison, declined comment yesterday through JMU officials.

Curley would not say whether Portland's departure was part of a deal resulting from the settlement. He said he was prohibited from making any comment.

Part of the agreement in the Harris case was that neither side discuss the settlement.

Portland has two years left on her contract, but Curley said he could not discuss salary matters.

"I definitely will honor whatever is in her contract," he said.

"She was not forced to make a decision" about leaving, Curley said. He also mentioned that he did not try to talk Portland out of her departure.

"She had obviously given this a lot of thought," the athletic director said. ". . . I've never been one to try to talk people out of . . . something they want to pursue."

Portland released a statement when Penn State made the announcement.

"This was obviously a difficult decision," the 54-year-old former coach said. "I am very appreciative of the opportunity to coach at Penn State, which has become a special place for me and my family."

In 31 years of coaching, including stints at St. Joseph's and Colorado, the native of Broomall has a 693-295 record, including a 606-236 mark at Penn State.

However, the Nittany Lions have had two straight losing seasons - the first ever under Portland - including a 15-16 record this season.

"I know they've had trouble recently recruiting in the state of Pennsylvania," said Mike Flynn, who runs the Blue Star AAU program. "But there's no reason why any kid in the state, or those in the areas that border Pennsylvania, shouldn't give serious consideration to Penn State."

In seeking Portland's successor, Penn State will be in competition with several other high-profile programs, including Texas, LSU, Florida and Washington, that are trying to fill vacancies.

It is not known whether Portland might be pursuing one of those openings.

"We believe all the pieces are in place to attract a top-flight coach," Curley said, citing the attention Portland brought to the program with 21 NCAA tournament appearances, including the run to the 2000 women's Final Four at the Wachovia Center.

The Nittany Lions also have won five Big Ten titles and two conference tournament crowns.

The Nittany Lions could be expected to lean toward female coaching candidates. In that regard, Penn State might be interested in one of its own in Suzie McConnell Serio.

Although the former Penn State all-American and Olympic gold medalist has not run a collegiate program, she jumped from a highly successful career coaching Oakland Catholic at the high school level in her native Pittsburgh to heading the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx.

She quit late last season when the Lynx faded from the playoff race but has said she is ready to take on a collegiate job. McConnell Serio is considered top be a candidate for the vacant Duquesne job.

Another candidate for the Nittany Lions could be Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti, the former Connecticut star.


Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com.

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