The idea of retiring as Johns Hopkins women's basketball coach began to dawn on Nancy Funk in mid-February. That notion took serious hold after Bill Nelson – her counterpart on the men's basketball team who began coaching in 1986, the same year that Funk started – announced his retirement in March.
"I think when Bill decided that he was going to retire, it caused me to take a step back and say, 'How do I feel about coming back another year with a new colleague in the other position?' '' Funk recalled. "Bill and I started the same year here. It's a unique situation and quite frankly, the successes of our program have mirrored each other throughout our tenure here. So we've established this wonderful working relationship over the years where he's a colleague I can certainly count on to talk to for advice and friendship and the whole gamut. … So I think the process was more at full-tilt when Bill made his decision."
Funk, who will step down June 30, amassed a 537-264 record in 31 years as the winningest coach in Blue Jays women's sports history and a 663-353 overall mark that includes nine seasons at Messiah, her alma mater. Her tenure includes 26 winning seasons, four Centennial Conference titles and 10 NCAA tournament appearances.
Funk said she and her husband, Dave, had several lengthy conversations about retiring from coaching. ("I had to wrap my head around it," said Funk, who declined to reveal her age except to say that she is in her "mid-60s.") But once she made the decision two weeks ago, she said, the timing was right.
"I said as long as I could match the energy that my girls have, I feel like I'll stay with it because I love it so much and because they mean so much to me," she said. "But I feel that I have reached a point where I don't think I can match their energy, and they deserve to have some new and fresh leadership that will take them to the next level."
Funk informed the players of her decision Monday night. She had an opportunity to announce her retirement during the team's end-of-season banquet Sunday night, but said she did not want to ruin a joyous occasion for the players.
Of those 10 NCAA tournament appearances, six occurred consecutively from 1995 to 2000. Funk helped guide the 1997 and 1998 teams to the NCAA quarterfinals, and the program won at least one game in the tournament in nine trips.
She also developed 80 all-conference choices, four Centennial Conference Players of the Year and six All-Americans. Ten of her players have been inducted into the university's Hall of Fame, which she joined in 2015.
But Funk's legacy will be about more than merely wins and losses, according to athletic director Alanna Shanahan.
"She's been a mentor to younger and newer coaches when they join the Johns Hopkins community," said Shanahan, who replaced Tom Calder last year. "But also I was really enamored this past year when we had an alumnae relations event that was specific to women's basketball and a lot of former players came back to meet with our current players and talk about their undergraduate experiences and career paths. Just to listen to some of those alumnae talk about what Nancy meant to them and how in many respects she was a combination mother and mentor and sister was amazing. … A lot of these women I talked to at the event were probably graduates in the '90s, and they just seemed to have a wonderful, meaningful relationship with Nancy."
One of the women Funk shaped is Janine Tucker, who still remembers taking over the Johns Hopkins women's lacrosse program in August 1993 and meeting Funk.
"Our offices were across the hall from each other, and from day one of meeting Nancy, she made me feel like I knew her for 15 years," Tucker said. "In about 20 minutes, she gave me the rundown of the whole athletic department, made me feel very comfortable, and made me feel like if I needed anything or I had a question about, she was the person to call. … I could not have asked for a better across-the-hall person."
Funk leaves a program that went 13-12 this past winter before losing to Gettysburg in the first round of the Centennial Conference tournament. But the team returns last year's leaders in points, rebounds and assists in sophomore shooting guard Lillian Scott, sophomore center Rory Cole and sophomore point guard Lexie Scholtz, respectively.
"I love this group coming back," Funk said. "This is a very talented sophomore class with some very good freshmen right behind them. So as a rising junior class, they show a lot of promise. But with no seniors next year, it really made sense for me to turn it over to someone else, to add a new dimension and new leadership to this group that is returning. I think they're going to be very good in years to come, and that makes it a little easier to leave when you know that you are leaving things in good shape."