Longtime Florida State women's basketball coach Sue Semrau will take a leave of absence for the duration of the 2020-21 season to care for her mother, who she said was diagnosed with ovarian cancer earlier this year.
Associate coach Brooke Wyckoff will serve as interim coach for this season. Semrau will also voluntarily forfeit her salary to "offset COVID-19-related budget cuts" in the athletic department.
In an open letter released Tuesday, Semrau said she had been traveling back and forth to her hometown of Seattle in recent months to help care for her mother, Rosemary, 81, as the family deals with the cancer diagnosis amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"For the past several months I've found it increasingly difficult to commute back and forth due to the tedious and ever-changing restrictions as a result of COVID-19," Semrau wrote. "I've prayerfully wrestled with how I can meet my family's needs and continue to lead our team. In these uncertain times, I haven't found an answer that works for everyone, but I always preach that family comes first."
Speaking Thursday, Semrau said that she was initially unable to visit her parents after the onset of the pandemic in March, which shut down much of the country as her mother was beginning chemotherapy. She eventually made two extended trips over the late spring and summer, testing for coronavirus before she flew to Seattle and again immediately upon arrival. Only once those second tests came back negative would she visit her parents.
She said that when back in Tallahassee after players returned in June, she began to realize such logistical hurdles would make it impossible to effectively balance her commitments to the team and to her parents.
"Adding my mom's health to the COVID is what really pushed me to make this decision," Semrau said. "Had there not been COVID, I wouldn't have made this decision."
Semrau, 58, was set to begin her 24th season at Florida State. Named national coach of the year by numerous organizations after the 2014-15 season, she has a 453-257 career record. Her teams twice won a share of the ACC regular-season title and reached the Elite Eight on three occasions, most recently 2015 and 2017.
She is also a former president of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and is currently the longest-serving coach at Florida State.
"Sue Semrau is one of the finest coaches in the country, and we completely support the decision she has made," Florida State athletic director David Coburn said in a statement. "We are given a great responsibility in intercollegiate athletics to nurture the growth of our student-athletes not only in their athletic careers, but in their academic endeavors and personal life. Our coaches constantly talk to our student-athletes about properly aligning their personal priorities, and Sue is giving all Seminoles the ultimate example of what that means."
Coburn announced earlier this summer that the athletic department would cut its operating budget by 20% as a result of shortfalls related to the pandemic. Semrau was one of several coaches who took a voluntary pay reduction at the time -- in her case 10%
Wyckoff played for Semrau at Florida State before a professional career in the WNBA and abroad. She has been part of Semrau's coaching staff for the past decade.
Former Florida State assistants Cori Close and Lance White took on head coaching positions at UCLA and Pitt, respectively, in recent years. But Semrau said that while numerous schools had approached her about Wyckoff, in regard to head coaching vacancies, she always begged her former player to remain on the staff in Tallahassee. She suggested that, except for recruiting phone calls, continuity will allow her to take a hands-off approach while on leave.
"I think it's really dangerous to try to dip in and out," Semrau said. "I think that I learned over my career that if you have responsibility for something, you better have authority to make decisions. So I will be out of that. I will be everybody's biggest fan, but certainly Brooke has been a vital part of putting together the systems that we use."
Assistant coach Joy McCorvey will assume Wyckoff's previous position as associate head coach on an interim basis, while assistant coach Morgan Toles will fill McCorvey's role as recruiting coordinator. Video coordinator Adam Surguine will serve as an interim assistant.
Semrau is the third high-profile ACC coach to step away for at least the upcoming season, following Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw's retirement and Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie's resignation.
Florida State said in a statement it anticipates Semrau resuming her duties in April.
For now, Semrau said her mom feels "stronger every day" and hopes for encouraging test results at the end of the month.
"You only have one mom," Semrau said. "You only get this chance to spend that time. For years I've spent probably 10 days all year at my parents. It will be great to spend a significant amount of time."