NC State fires Kellie Harper

RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina State has fired women's basketball coach Kellie Harper after four seasons.

The school said Tuesday the 35-year-old coach wouldn't return after missing the NCAA tournament for the third straight year. Harper, a former player under Tennessee's Pat Summitt, was the successor to late Hall of Famer Kay Yow, who died in 2009 after a long fight with cancer.

Harper's first team went 20-14, made a surprise run to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final and reached the NCAAs in 2010. But that season ended up being the high point.

The Wolfpack never reached 20 wins again, going just 50-50 with a 16-32 mark in ACC play and two trips to the WNIT in the past three seasons.

Harper also struggled to lure difference-making recruits who could help one of the league's most traditionally successful programs re-establish itself in a conference now controlled by Duke, Maryland and North Carolina.

Harper's Wolfpack beat the rival Tar Heels in each of her first two seasons and upset No. 5 Duke in last season's ACC tournament. But preseason optimism drained quickly this year when Harper's team started 0-7 in ACC play. The Wolfpack (17-17) ended the season with a loss at James Madison in the second round of the WNIT on Sunday, which wasn't enough for a school that with goals of being a consistent presence in the top half of the league standings as well as being a perennial NCAA tournament team.

Michael Lipitz, senior associate athletics director and women's basketball supervisor, said he and athletic director Debbie Yow met with Harper on Monday and Tuesday before notifying her she wouldn't return for the final year of her contract. The school will owe Harper her base salary -- $247,209 -- for that final season.

They notified the players of the coaching change Tuesday afternoon.

"It just came down to I think we agree on where we want to go as a program and what our goals are, but we probably have different visions on how to achieve those goals," Lipitz said.

Harper didn't immediately return a call to her cellphone for comment Tuesday evening.

Lipitz said the school has no specific timeline for conducting a national search to find Harper's replacement. Assistant coach Ken Griffin will lead the program as the interim coach.

Harper came to Raleigh in 2009 after five seasons at Western Carolina, where she compiled a 97-65 record while leading the Catamounts to two NCAA tournament bids and a pair of Southern Conference championships. Harper also played under Summitt as part of Tennessee's three straight national championship teams from 1996-98.

The decision to hire Harper signaled the school was ready for a fresh start for a program defined by Kay Yow's success on the court for three decades and her courage fighting cancer away from it before her death in January 2009. That decision by then-athletic director Lee Fowler was a sensitive one for many surrounding the program considering Yow had hoped that the school would designate longtime assistant Stephanie Glance as her successor.

Glance -- who served as the interim coach after Yow's death -- spent a year as an assistant at Tennessee before becoming head coach at Illinois State in 2010.

Debbie Yow, Kay's sister, replaced Fowler as N.C. State's athletic director that same year.

Harper was just the third coach in team history.