The six-year extension of women's basketball coach Jamelle Elliott rewards more than winning games, rather rebuilding a culture of winning basketball.
CINCINNATI - When Jamelle Elliott was named the University of Cincinnati women's basketball coach three years ago, she viewed the Bearcats as a destination job. She immediately laid roots and bought a house.
Others across college basketball may have viewed UC as a destination job at that time as well, if that destination were Alcatraz. In the three years prior to Elliott's arrival in 2009, Cincinnati went 12-36 in Big East play.
After three years spent escaping Big East irrelevancy, Elliott emerged Thursday with a six-year contract extension securing her to the Fifth Third Arena bench through 2018. The destination job in her eyes is now beginning to be viewed similarly across the country.
The Bearcats won a postseason game for the first time in a decade last year with a 68-63 win against Duquense in the WNIT and marked the first time the program qualified for a postseason tournament since 2006. Suddenly, a program running on empty three years ago merged into the fast lane of the up-and-comers.
"I am going to be honest with you, I didn't see us going to the postseason in my mind in my plan until after Year 4," Elliott said. "I knew it was a program that was going to take a while to get to where not only the administration but where I wanted it to be. Every day, every week, every month we were just going to focus on building a solid foundation so the things we were going to improve would be visible."
They were clear to AD Whit Babcock. Though, not necessarily for the reasons most would think. Sure, the landmarks of the first .500 or better season since 2007 and winning six of seven Big East games raised the idea of rewarding his women's basketball coach. For Babcock, he knew midway through the conference season that extending Elliott was near the top of the first-year AD's agenda.
He saw the response of her players. He witnessed the demeanor and attitude of everyone associated with the team. He viewed a program making the university proud on and off the floor.
All that started with Elliott.
"I really love what Jamelle has done here," Babcock said. "I really like how she builds our young women into great young women not just great basketball players. She's the total package. She fits the brand of UC to a T. I couldn't be happier about this announcement."
Babcock mentioned Elliott's pedigree as a winner with her time as an assistant under Geno Auriemma at Connecticut. With each of her three years that detail faded further down her resume. Being a part of seven national titles will never become a footnote, but she hopes it can be overshadowed before this latest extension concludes.
Everyone remembers the Huskies run of success, but Elliott recalls the program working its way to the elite when she first arrived as a player in Storrs in 1993.
"I was also there at the beginning when the football players used to walk through our games to go to study hall," she said.
What happened next is unprecedented in women's college basketball, but Elliott does see the parallels in the state of the UC program now compared to what she witnessed as an 18-year-old.
"I think the parallel is, and with anybody whose building a program, you have to start at the bottom and the foundation is the most important part of building anything," she said. "You have to make sure you change the culture, bring in players who work extremely hard, who are good students, team oriented."
Such has been the accomplishment of three years Elliott says she's "happy she's on the other side of." Building a foundation and changing the culture became a two-year long ripping off of the Band-Aid. A strong foundation and culture of winning expectations now filter from top to bottom.
The extension allows the next step of the plan to flourish. In recruiting, Elliott can sell herself as the face who will guide the student-athletes throughout their college experience. To parents, that fact allows them to sleep at night much more than winning seasons or postseason victories.
"If you did decide to come to the University of Cincinnati my contract is put in place so I will be here through the duration of your time here," Elliott said. "Kids want to hear that, parents want to hear that because they know the trend of turnover in women's college basketball has been really high the last two or three years."
It won't be at UC. Though zero guarantees exist in college athletics, Elliott and Babcock signed off on the closest thing to it this week. That means job security and focus on ascending to the next level for the women's basketball program.
What does the next level mean for the near future? Elliott's not exactly sure, but she's thrilled at the pieces surrounding her attempting to find out.
"We just want to continue to improve," she said. "Our players are hungry, they want to see improvement. On the flip side because we've had that success I don't know if we are going to be as under the radar as we have been in the past. People are going to look at Cincinnati now and know that we had success. They won't look at Cincinnati as a win-game no matter what."
Indeed, thanks to Elliott, nobody views Cincinnati basketball in the same light.