Owens returns 'home' to lead Huskies

DEKALB, Ill. -- Northern Illinois turned to one of its Hall of Fame hardwood greats this week, naming Carol Owens as its eighth head women's basketball coach of the school's modern era since 1957-58.

Owens, currently an assistant at Notre Dame, was introduced as the Huskie coach Tuesday in downtown Chicago and on campus at the new Convocation Center. The announcement was made by first-year Northern Illinois Athletics Director Jim Phillips.

"You've often heard the term 'favorite son,' " Phillips said. "Well, Carol is the 'loyal daughter.' She's a Huskie, tried and true. Several other head coaching opportunities have come up, but she wanted to return to her beloved alma mater. For us, she represents the perfect institutional fit.

"Having worked alongside Carol at Notre Dame for four years, her integrity and dedication are unquestioned. She has competed and coached at the highest level. In Carol Owens, we have someone who can deliver that world-class experience, a top-notch recruiter, a tournament-tested coach, a Chicagoan who can help us in this market and region, and a proud NIU alum.

The 37-year-old Owens will officially begin her Huskie duties once the Fighting Irish are eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame (26-5) plays UC Santa Barbara on Sunday in Fresno, Calif.

At Northern Illinois, Owens succeeds head coach Carol Hammerle whose seven-year tenure ended with her retirement on March 8. Regarded one of the country's premier Division I women's assistants for many years, Owens was promoted to associate coach in June 2002 by Muffet McGraw. Including this season, the Irish have won 251 of 325 games (.772 winning percentage) during Owens' 10-year tenure in South Bend. In the interim, ND has qualified for 10 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, made six Sweet 16 appearances (1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2004), reached two Final Fours (1997, 2001), and won the program's first NCAA championship (2001).

"This is a dream come true," said Owens who became the first Northern Illinois undergrad to serve as a head coach in a revenue program at the DeKalb-based institution since Hall of Fame head football coach Howard Fletcher (1956-68).

"I remember when I was a sophomore and I told (then head coach) Jane (Albright) that once I graduated, I would come back as her assistant in two or three years. This is even better."

At Notre Dame, Owens' primary duties were focusing on the development of Notre Dame's posts. Ruth Riley went on to win national player of the year honors in 2001, and Riley, Katryna Gaither (1993-97) and Kelley Siemon (1997-2001) were all selected in the WNBA draft. In 2003, Riley led the Detroit Shock to the WNBA title and was named the Finals Most Valuable Player. This past summer, Riley became the first Irish women's alumna to make the United States Olympic Team, and earned a Gold Medal in Athens, Greece.