The biggest bombshell of the women's college basketball season hit before the opening game. Legendary Texas A&M coach Gary Blair announced that he is retiring at the end of this season.
"You're probably wondering about the timing," Blair said at his Oct. 28 retirement press conference. "Is it right for me to retire right now? I've been thinking about it for the last couple of years that I've had to answer these questions. It's right for my basketball program right now, that's the most important thing. It is right for the university. It is right for my recruits, and it is right for my current players and our staff."
Blair arrived in College Station for the 2003-04 season after 10 years at Arkansas, where he'd led the Razorbacks to the Final Four, but he was just getting warmed up. By his third season at A&M, he'd lifted the Aggies to a 23-9 record and the NCAA Tournament. That started the program's current streak of 16 consecutive seasons with 20 or more wins and NCAA Tournament appearances.
Along the way, Texas A&M won the 2011 NCAA championship. The winning ways continued when the Aggies moved to the SEC two seasons later. Since joining the most competitive conference in the sport for the 2012-13 season, A&M hasn't failed to win at least 22 games and hasn't missed the NCAA Tournament.
The Aggies won the SEC Tournament in their first season in the league, and they're the defending regular-season champion in the conference.
Texas A&M Athletics Director Ross Bjork called the Hall of Famer Blair "a legend in women's basketball and college sports. He has made a transformational impact on Texas A&M University, our athletics program and all of college basketball. His decades-long championship-caliber coaching acumen and recruiting ability has transcended many generations
of women's basketball players and his impact will be felt long after he hangs up the whistle."
One indication of Blair's impact on SEC basketball: Three current head coaches in the conference - Auburn's Johnnie Harris, Arkansas's Mike Neighbors and LSU's Kim Mulkey - are members of his coaching tree.
Blair said "the person who helped me the most" in making the decision to retire was former Texas A&M football coach R.C. Slocum. Despite Slocum's current battle with cancer, Blair said, the two discussed the retirement question recently, and "I could sit there and feel at ease with the decision after I talked with R.C."
Blair won't be leaving the program on a down note. Last season, Texas A&M went 25-3, beat South Carolina in the final regular-season game to clinch the program's first SEC regular-season title and reached the Sweet 16. The Aggies return eight players, including super senior guard Kayla Wells and junior guard Jordan Nixon, who were selected to the preseason All-SEC second team, and SEC Sixth Woman of the Year Destiny Pitts.
The conference coaches picked the Aggies to finish second in the SEC.
"I told my administration," Blair said, "I don't care if we won the national championship, I was not going out on a COVID year. I want people to stand up, and I don't want them to come out to honor me. I want them to come out and be a part of the 12th Man and make a difference. That's our role. We aren't always going to be favored, but we will always find a way."