SALT LAKE CITY — Utah women's basketball coach Elaine Elliott made it official Wednesday afternoon, announcing at a press conference at the Jon M. Huntsman Center that she is calling it a career.
"Coach Elliott, who has been on her leave of absence, will now be retiring," Athletics Director Dr. Chris Hill said to open the meeting. "She was previously known as Coach Elliott, she is now known as Elaine."
Last April, Elliott, who has been with the team for 32 years and served as the head coach for 27 of them, decided it was time to step down. She and Hill created a plan that involved a one-year-long leave of absence instead, leaving the door ajar should she choose to return following the 2010-11 campaign.
As it turned out, the year away from the game agreed with her. It wasn't, however, an entirely easy decision.
"I love coaching, I love the U., I love the players, I love my staff," Elliott said, holding back tears. "It just came down to, 32 years is a long time. It's a big load and a lot of stress, and it is just time."
When asked what she was going to miss the most, Elliott pointed to the six players sitting in the front row and said, "Right there. That's the hardest part."
Elliott spent her turn speaking during the press conference to thank all of those who have been a part of her teams throughout her career at Utah.
"First, the players. There's a lot of them, and this is a thank you to all of the players," she said. "Clear from '79 when I got here through this season, they are what this is about and they are incredible. What a great life those kids have given me over the last 32 years."
She also thanked Hill, all of those who served on her coaching staff throughout the years, and the university.
"How lucky I have been. To know that every one of (those involved) and every one of these players made this program and made me successful, I can't say thank you enough or have it mean more any than it does."
Though she said the idea of coaching again is not out of the question, she said probably not at the college level.
"I now have this blank slate sitting in front of me and I don't know what's next. That was also part of the conflict of the decision … Having said that, the load and the stress, I want to be through with that and coaching kind of takes that with it, certainly coaching at this level does. I would certainly not see that continuing. Other than that, I'm open ? do you have a job?"
The announcement comes just four days after the Utes were eliminated from the women's NCAA Tournament and a week after the team won four games in five days to become the surprise champions of the Mountain West Conference tournament.
At the same press conference, the school also announced it has hired interim head coach Anthony Levrets as the new permanent head coach.
"(Elliott's leave of absence) would not at all have been possible unless I was able to hand the keys over to somebody that would take care of it," Hill said, "and I couldn't do that unless Anthony was on the staff. It was a pleasure to be able to hand the keys over for a year while we waited."
Levrets filled the position as interim coach throughout the season, which included both of the aforementioned feats as well as an 18-17 overall record and a fourth-place finish in the MWC regular season. He will now lead the young but experienced Utes into new territory with the Pac-12 waiting for them next season.
"Life is a crazy thing," Levrets said. "(Elliott and I) met basically in a parking lot in Phoenix, Arizona four years ago and it has turned into this. I am extremely thankful to you (Elaine) for giving me the opportunity. It was an honor to work for (you)."
He added, "It's just been really weird. I'm elated but I've been doing it for a year, so it's an interesting feeling. I'm really, really excited though."
Levrets becomes the fourth head women's basketball coach in school history.
Point guard Janita Badon, who just finished her junior season, said she will miss Elliott's presence.
"I look over at the bench every play to see what she wants us to run… from time to time I'll look up (in the stands) and give her a wink or a wave, something like that," Badon said. "I would have been ok whether she was coming back or whether she was not because I know she left us in good hands."
Elliott coached the Utes to 15 NCAA Tournament appearances, including one trip to the Elite Eight and two trips to the Sweet 16. She also won 15 conference titles, compiled a record of 582-234 (.713), had 26 winning seasons, and is one of just 19 women's basketball coaches ever to produce 20 20-win seasons.
She finished the press conference, and her Utah coaching career, with, "So, that's about it. It couldn't have been better. Go Utes."