Utah State Athletics Abruptly Fires Women’s Basketball Coach Kayla Ard

Source: Utah State Athletics

Kayla Ard spent four seasons as head coach of the Utah State Aggies women’s basketball team, but her 24-90 record wasn’t good enough to earn a fifth year. The 40-year-old coach was abruptly fired mere minutes before taking the podium for her final post-game conference of the season – and it was awkward! Here’s what you missed.

Utah State Loses Conference Tourney Opener

It all went down on Sunday (March 10) when the Utah State Aggies and Boise State Broncos played against one another in the First Round of the Mountain West Conference tournament. Let’s just say it didn’t go too well for Utah State.

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The Aggies were down 40-19 at the half, but things only got worse in the second half. The final score was 85-49 in favor of the Broncos. The Aggies only shot 22% from the field and were outrebounded 67-33. Utah State ended the season 5-25, including 2-16 in the Mountain West.

Kayla Ard Asked About Rebuilding

In the post-game press conference, a reporter asked Ard how she plans on rebuilding for the 2024-25 season – but no one was prepared for her response. “I’m not going to be rebuilding, I just coached my last game at Utah State,” she said.

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She further clarified that she spoke with Dianna Sabau, the school’s athletic director, moments after the game ended, and the AD decided to go in a ‘different direction.’ She ended her presser by saying, “I’m assuming that’s going to be the last question,” before walking out.

Utah State Releases Statement

It didn’t take long for Utah State to release a statement of their own – echoing what Ard alluded to in the press conference. “We appreciate everything Kayla and her staff have contributed to Utah State,” said Sabau. “However, it is in the best interest of the program to make a change.”

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Many people were quick to criticize Sabau over the abrupt firing – something that could’ve been handled at a later date, or even the following day. Instead, they decided it was best to make that decision minutes before sticking Ard in front of a microphone.

A Change Was Needed In Logan, Utah

With that said, Utah State was in desperate need of a change. The school’s women’s basketball program started play in 1972, but was shuttered between 1988 and 2002. They re-opened the program in 2003 under head coach Raegan Pebley.

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They went just 22-60 over the next three seasons, but started to turn things around in 2008 – going 68-57 in Pebley’s final four seasons, including 21-10 in her last season. Jerry Finkbeiner was named head coach in 2012, and the team went 18-14 in his first season.

2013: Utah State Joins Mountain West Conference

The 2013-14 season was a special one for Utah State, as it was their first season in the Mountain West Conference – they were a part of the Western Athletic Conference between 2006 and 2013.

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At the time, the school had yet to win a conference tournament or earn a berth in the NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament. They did, however, make two appearances in the WNIT and three appearances in WBI tournaments.

2013-19: Jerry Finkbeiner Barely Keeps Team Relevant

Finkbeiner was head coach for the first six years of Utah State’s foray into the MWC. The team went 78-94 during that span, including 45-64 in the Mountain West.

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While they did have two winning seasons in 2016-17 (17-15) and 2018-19 (17-16), they also had two extremely disappointing seasons in 2014-15 (8-23) and 2017-18 (7-23).

2019-20: Finkbeiner’s Son Takes Over

In November 2019, Jerry Finkbeiner stepped down as head coach due to medical reasons. His son, Ben Finkbeiner, was promoted from associate head coach to interim head coach.

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The Aggies went just 8-23 under his leadership, including 2-16 in the Mountain West Conference. They failed to make a postseason appearance, despite making three such appearances under his father.

March 2020: Utah State Hires Kayla Ard

On March 23, 2020, the Utah State Aggies revealed their new head coach – Kayla Ard. “I am truly blessed, thankful and honored to be the head women’s basketball coach at Utah State University,” she said upon being hired.

Source: X/Kayla Ard

She went on to praise Utah State for its ‘great tradition of winning’ and expressed her excitement to ‘get to work and give the best fans in the country something to be excited about’, adding that they were about to ‘make some noise in the Mountain West.’

2020-21: Utah State Finishes Season 4-20

That noise never quite came to fruition. In her first year with the program, the team went just 4-20 overall and 2-16 in the Mountain West. It was their worst record and most losses since joining the MWC.

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Believe it or not, the team was 4-4 after the first eight games, but things went downhill once they started playing Mountain West teams. They ended the season on a 16-game losing streak.

2021-22: Ard Shows Promise With 11 Wins

The 2021-22 season gave the school a little sense of hope. They went 11-19 overall and 5-13 in the MWC – securing more conference wins than they did overall wins the previous season.

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In fact, they were 5-3 to start the season and were on a three-game winning streak, but a nine-game losing streak brought them back to Earth. They did, however, win three of their final four games – two of which were won in overtime.

2022-23: Ties School Record With 26 Losses

All their hope from the previous season was wiped clean in 2022. They won their first game of the season, but it was just one of four wins that year. They finished 4-26 overall and 1-17 in the MWC.

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During the season, they went on a five-game losing streak, an eight-game losing streak, and eventually finished the year on a 13-game losing streak. Their 26 losses tied a school record for most losses in a single season.

2023-24: Second Consecutive 25-Loss Season

That brings us to this past season – the one that ended with an awkward press conference. The Aggies were 3-3 through the first six games, but followed that up with a 13-game losing streak. They finished the year just 2-9 in the last 11 games.

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Their 5-25 record marked the first time in school history that they lost at least 25 games in back-to-back seasons. Ard ended her four-year stint with a 24-90 record (10-62 in MWC). She had one year remaining on her five-year contract worth $215,000 per year.

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Ryan Handson

Written by Ryan Handson

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