Peck, Carolyn 1966(?)–
Carolyn Peck 1966(?)–
Professional basketball coach
It is appropriate that Carolyn Peck’s first job opportunity in professional sports has her as coach and general manager of a team called the Miracle. Though this coach of the WNBA’s Orlando franchise does not rely on miracles, it does not hurt to dream big and believe in their possibility when stalking the side lines of a basketball court. “I’ve found out that nothing happens unless you dream,” Peck told John Denton of Gannett News Service. “That’s the way I live my life.” It is a life that threads through being named Tennessee’s Miss Basketball while in high school, to working as an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee when they reached the national championship game, to winning her own national championship as head coach of Purdue, to being selected—at age 32—as the first head coach and general manager of the Orlando Miracle.
Born and raised in Jefferson City, Tennessee, Peck found an affinity with basketball at an early age. By her mid-teens when she reached her 6-4 frame, her passion for the game was housed in a formidable package. Soon, she was a two-time prep All-American at Jefferson County High School and by her senior year was averaging 35 points and 13.2 rebounds a game. Also in her senior year, Peck was named Tennessee’s Miss Basketball, an honor recognizing the state’s top high school girls basketball player and was voted the top recruit in the nation by one scouting service.
From Jefferson City, Peck went on to study at Vanderbilt University where she also played from 1985 to 1988. During her career at Vanderbilt Peck averaged 10.6 points and 5.8 rebounds a game. Additionally, she blocked 180 shots during her four seasons of play and in Peck’s final two seasons she served as her team’s captain. In 1988 she graduated with a B.A. in communications and after passing on an opportunity to play basketball professionally in Spain, she took a job as a marketing consultant at a Nashville television station. Then she sold pharmaceutical products for two years thinking she was done with the game forever.
However, Peck found her love for basketball ran deeper than she thought. “When I was working, I missed the
At a Glance…
Born Carolyn Peck, c. 1966, in Jefferson City, Ten nessee. Education; Vanderbilt University; B.A., In communications, 1988.
Career: Marketing consultant for Nashville, Tennessee TV station, 1988-89; pharmaceutical salesperson, 1989-91; professional basketball player for Nippondenso Corporation in Japan, 1991-93; assistant coach at the University of Tennessee, 1993-95; assistant coach at the University of Kentucky, 1995-96; assistant coach at Purdue University, 1996-97; head coach at Purdue University, 1997-99; assistant coach on silver medal-winning USA Jones Cup team, 1997; head coach and general manager of the Orlando Miracle, 1998-.
Awards: Named Tennessee’s Miss Basketball, circa 1984; Associated Press Coach of the Year, 1999; IKON/WBCA Division f National Coach of the Year, 1999; Winged Foot Award, New York Athletic Club, 1999; Big Ten Coach of the Year, 1999; Naismith women’s Coach of the Year, 1999.
Addresses: Office —Orlando Miracle, PO Box 4000, Orlando, FL 32802-4000.
game so much,” she confessed to Denton, “I was taking vacations to work at basketball camps to stay close to the game.” In 1991 Peck quit her job to play professional basketball, first in Italy for three weeks, then in Japan for two years. Playing for the Nippondenso Corporation, Peck ranked third in rebounds in 1991 and 1992 and her team won the league championship in 1993, her last year of play. From there it was back to her home state to serve as an assistant coach to Pat Summitt at the University of Tennessee, which in the world of women’s college basketball is as close to the top as you can get.
Under Summitt the Lady Vols, as they’re known, had achieved a great deal of success and Summitt was hailed as one of the best coaches in the NCAA. Peck had signed on with a winner. In her first season with the team, Tennessee went 31-2 winning the Southeastern Conference championship and making it into the NCAA Sweet 16. The following season, in 1994-95, the Lady Vols again won the Southeastern Conference championship, went 34-3, and made it to the championship game where they lost to Connecticut.
In 1995 Peck went to serve as an assistant coach at Kentucky where the team finished the 1995-96 season with a dismal 8-19 record. The next year Peck bolted to Purdue to work under head coach Nell Fortner who had just replaced Lin Dunn who had been fired after nine years. With the new coaching staff in place the Boilermakers finished 17-11 and made it into the second round of NCAA tournament. A respectable record for a new staff with young players, Purdue seemed to be on the verge of big things when an opportunity arose that would alter the sidelines. Coach Fortner had been offered the position of head coach of the women’s basketball team for the 2000 Olympics and she was leaving.
“Nell had called the three assistants to her house,” recalled Peck to Leigh Montville of Sports Illustrated. “She said she’d been offered the job as coach of the U.S. Olympic team for 2000. I’m thinking, ‘O.K., so now she’s going to tell us that we’re going to be looking for jobs.’ Instead she said, ‘I’ve recommended one of you to replace me.’ We all looked at each other. ‘I’ve recommended Carolyn.’ I couldn’t believe it.” Peck got the job and would now be the third coach at Purdue in as many years.
In her first ever role as head coach, Peck leaned on the examples of Summitt and Fortner to create a team with heart and discipline, but one which also valued the notion that basketball was a game and games are supposed to be fun. “It has got to be fun,” she told Dave Caldwell of the Dallas Morning News. “And everybody’s got to be doing whatever they can for the best of the team.” With that in mind, Peck steered the Boilermakers to a 23-10 record and guided them into the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament in 1998. With most players returning the following year, the 1998-99 season for Purdue looked bright.
Meanwhile, in the world of women’s professional sports, the still-young WNBA announced in April of 1998 that the league was expanding with new franchises in Orlando, Florida and Minnesota, bringing the number of teams to 12. Pat Williams, senior executive vice president of the as-yet-unnamed Orlando franchise initiated his search to find someone to act as both head coach and general manager, since the budget dictated that one person had to handle both positions. After speaking with six prospective coaches, including Pat Summitt, Gail Goestenkors of Duke and Carol Ross of Florida, all six turned him down. “I didn’t know where to go next,” Williams told Montville of Sports Illustrated. “I called the only guy I knew who knew anything about this, [Dick] Hoops Weiss at the New York Daily News. He’d given me my original list…. On the new list was Carolyn Peck at Purdue. Then a funny thing happened. The next day both Carol Ross and Gail Goestenkors called. They both said that maybe 1 should call Carolyn Peck.” He did.
Peck and Williams met in June of 1998 to discuss the position and Peck accepted the job with a four-year contract. Now all she had to do was go back to Purdue and tell her team the unwelcome news that they were going to have to work with a new coach again. “I had to talk to the players about this,” she recalled to Montville. “It became an emotional time. I cried every day.” So did her players, some of whom felt betrayed and angry. “We’d stayed and played for her because we believed in what she wanted to do,” returning senior Stephanie McCarty told Montville. “Now she was going to leave? We didn’t want to be just stepping-stones for people. I felt betrayed, and I told her so,” she continued.
It became more and more apparent to Peck that she could not leave under these conditions so she put in a call to Pat Williams and asked a favor. Could she remain at Purdue for the upcoming season and then go to Orlando when the team started playing? “I understood her problem,” he conceded to Montville. “Of course the ideal would have been to have her here for a year, making personal appearances, selling tickets, working on personnel situations, but this was late, and where was Purdue going to find a coach in June? Everyone was pretty much set. I said O.K.”
In July of 1998 it was announced that Carolyn Peck was the first head coach and general manager of the new Orlando team, now named the Miracle, and that she would coach one last season at Purdue. The team took a preseason trip to Switzerland and France for exhibition games and this helped smooth the bumpy road of the previous couple of months between Peck and her team. By the time the season started in the fall they were again a cohesive unit and Peck would refuse to discuss the fact she was leaving or answer any questions about Orlando.
Not that it mattered. With the way Purdue was playing, there was more than enough to talk about. The team shot out of a cannon, ending the regular season with a white hot 28-1 record, losing only to Stanford by just one point. The team credited Peck for their success. “She was always positive toward the team no matter what we were doing,” player Katie Douglas told the Atlanta Constitution. “When we look over and we see her get fired up, we just want to please her and go out and play hard and get fired up with her,” she added. They entered the post season tournament with the same ferocity, going to and winning the final game with a 62-45 win over Duke. They were national champions and ranked number one in the country.
Peck garnered Coach of the Year honors from the Associated Press and a host of other accolades, including the distinction of being the first black coach to win an NCAA women’s championship. Additionally, Peck was the first woman and the first black to win the Winged Foot Award from the New York Athletic Club, the award that honored the best coach in the NCAA. Not that any of this mattered to Peck. “I didn’t win a national championship because of the color of my skin,” she insisted to the AtIanta Constitution. “We won a national championship because of the 15 young women that are on our team and how hard they play together.” Two weeks after the championship game she was in Orlando preparing for their upcoming season.
As with most expansion teams, the expectations for the Miracle were relatively low even with an accomplished coach like Peck. Bringing players and coaches together for the first time often required a progression and the Miracle were no exception. Still, like Peck’s Purdue team, they played with heart and finished with a 15-17 record which seemed worse than it actually was, having lost a number of close games. “At the beginning of the season, a magazine picked us to finish in the cellar, and we didn’t believe that for a second,” Peck told Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel. I can probably name only three games that we weren’t in…. I am pleased with the development that we had and pleased we never got down,” she continued. However, Peck did acknowledge the failure to get into the playoffs was a disappointment.
The fact that Peck achieved so much success so quickly in her career is a surprise to no one who knew or has worked with her. “I’m not at all surprised because when Carolyn came to us as an assistant she obviously demonstrated her desire to be involved in our program, as well as talking and studying the game,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt told William Kalec of University Wire when hearing of the selection of Peck as Miracle head coach. “She really wanted to be committed to this profession,” she added. Part of that commitment is accepting the challenges offered in the sports world. “It’s a dream. It’s an honor and it’s a challenge,” Peck told Denton. “Athletes get into sports because of the challenges. I look forward to the challenge of building this franchise into a winner,” she concluded.
Atlanta Constitution, March 30, 1999, p. E-3; April 4, 1999, p. E-6.
Dallas Morning News, March 30, 1999, p. 1B.
Gannett News Service, July 7, 1998.
Jet, March 22, 1999, p. 47; June 14, 1999, p.49.
New York Times, May 25, 1999, p. D-7.
Orlando Sentinel, June 10, 1999; August 22, 1999; August 23, 1999.
Sports Illustrated, June 14, 1999, p. 66.
University Wire, February 10, 1999.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from the official site of The Orlando Miracle at http://www.wnba.com/miracle.
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