Joni Taylor leaves Georgia to replace Blair at Texas A&M | Radio WGN 720

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Georgia women’s basketball coach Joni Taylor leaves for Southeastern Conference rival Texas A&M.

The Lady Bulldogs announced Wednesday that Taylor has taken the job with the Aggies after seven years at Georgia.

Taylor replaces Gary Blair, who retired after nearly two decades coaching the Aggies and led them to the national title in 2011.

Taylor compiled a 140-75 overall record at Georgia, including a 62-48 mark in the SEC. She guided the Lady Bulldogs to four appearances in the NCAA Tournament but never made it past the second round.

Texas A&M fell to 14-15 in Blair’s final season, including a 4-12 conference record, and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005.

But Taylor pointed to the historic excellence of the program under Blair, which included at least eight stints at the Sweet 16.

“You speak of a program steeped in tradition and an institution that leads not just in the SEC, but in the country,” Taylor said in a statement released by Texas A&M. “I’m excited to get there and meet the team and immerse myself and our family in Aggieland.”

Taylor, 43, said she’s known Blair since she was a player in Alabama and he coached in Arkansas, where he spent 10 seasons before joining Texas A&M in 2003.

“The way he led the young women on and off the pitch and was the steward of our game is something I have always admired,” she said. “He created a national championship program during his 19 years at A&M – to be able to continue that legacy is an honor.”

This is the second time Taylor has taken over from a longtime coach.

She landed her first head coaching job in 2015 following the retirement of Andy Landers, who turned Georgia into a national powerhouse during a 36-year career.

The Lady Bulldogs have made 31 NCAA appearances under Landers, including five Final Fours and two runs to the national championship game. They lost both times, leaving the only stain on Landers’ record.

The program slipped a bit in Landers’ final years before he handed over the job to Taylor, who was working on his team.

Taylor had promising seasons but failed to bring the Lady Bulldogs back to the levels they had reached under Landers.

“I want to personally thank Joni for being a great ambassador at the University of Georgia,” athletic director Josh Brooks said. “His impact left a lasting impression on this program.”

Brooks said he has already begun the search for a new coach, who will be only the third person to hold the position in 44 seasons.

He has already sought a new men’s coach, hiring Mike White from Florida to take over the Bulldogs after Tom Crean was sacked.

“We are committed to competing for championships and playoff success in each of our 21 sports,” Brooks said. “I am confident that we will find the best person to help us achieve this mission and continue the great tradition of Georgia Lady Bulldog basketball.”

Taylor said she was drawn to Texas A&M in large part because of athletic director Ross Bjork’s commitment to women’s sports.

“There are a lot of great coaches in this business,” Taylor said. “For them to target me and say I’m who they want to be the leader of this great program is incredibly humiliating.”

Bjork said he wanted someone who would build on Blair’s successful tenure.

“It was so important that we found the right leader and the right person who would embody those same qualities and someone who understood what an Aggie is,” Bjork said. “The more we got to know Coach Taylor, the clearer it became that she is the right coach to lead our program in this new era of Aggie basketball.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963

More AP Women’s College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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