Texas A&M women’s coach Blair to retire at season’s end

NCAA Basketball

Longtime Texas A&M women’s basketball coach Gary Blair announced Thursday that this season will be his last with the Aggies, with the 76-year-old set to retire at season’s end.

Blair has been at Texas A&M since 2003, leading the Aggies to a national championship in 2011.

”I always evaluate myself on: Am I giving everything I have, is my health good and am I still able to make an impact on young lives,” Blair said in a statement. ”I am fortunate that my health is still great, and I believe that I can still make an impact on our student-athletes and that I can give all my effort every single day. However, I know that it is time for this to be my final season.”

The Aggies have won five conference titles, including the Southeastern Conference regular-season title last season, during his tenure. Blair, who was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, has led Texas A&M to a school-record 430 wins.

He has helped the Aggies make 16 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament and has taken Texas A&M to the Sweet 16 in each of the last three seasons the tournament was held.

”Coach Blair is a legend in women’s basketball and college sports,” Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said. ”He has made a transformational impact on Texas A&M University, our athletics program and all of college basketball. His decadeslong championship-caliber coaching acumen and recruiting ability has transcended many generations of women’s basketball players and his impact will be felt long after he hangs up the whistle.”

Blair had 210 wins at Stephen F. Austin and 198 at Arkansas before joining the Aggies, and his 838 career victories are the 12th most in Division I history and fourth among active coaches.

Blair has completely transformed the Aggies during his time in College Station, Texas. The year before he arrived, Texas A&M was the worst team in the Big 12 and had suffered seven straight losing seasons.

The Aggies went 9-19 in Blair’s first year before improving to 16-15 in the 2004-05 season to make the WNIT tournament, their first postseason appearance since the 1995-96 season. Texas A&M went 23-9 the following year and began its streak of trips to the NCAA Tournament.

The pinnacle of his success came in 2011 when the Aggies went 33-5. Texas A&M upset a Baylor team led by Brittney Griner to reach the Final Four and got victories over Stanford and Notre Dame to capture the national title.

Blair spent seven years as a high school coach before being hired as an assistant at Louisiana Tech in 1980. He worked there until 1985, helping the team to two national titles, including the first NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in the 1981-82 season.

His first head coaching job came when he was hired at Stephen F. Austin in 1985 and he worked there until 1993. He led that team to seven consecutive conference titles and six NCAA Tournament appearances.

He then moved up to Arkansas where his success continued, as he helped the Razorbacks to the Final Four in the 1997-98 season. Arkansas made the tournament five times in his 10 seasons before he left to join the Aggies in 2003.

The folksy Blair, who passes out candy to fans before every game and works tirelessly to increase attendance, is looking forward to his final ride.

”I am even more excited to compete this year,” he said. ”We are the defending SEC champions and have the toughest conference schedule in the league this year. I don’t want the fans to come out to send me off. I want (people) to come out and support our players and this program.”

Texas A&M enters the season ranked No. 23 and begins play on Nov. 9 against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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