After five seasons at UCSC, women’s basketball coach Nikki Turner, above, calls it quits and prepares to move to Cal State East Bay, a Division II school with more athletic funding. Photo courtesy of Nikki Turner.
After five seasons at UCSC, women’s basketball coach Nikki Turner, above, calls it quits and prepares to move to Cal State East Bay, a Division II school with more athletic funding. Photo courtesy of Nikki Turner.

Although some people may not like to admit it, the old adage “Money makes the world go ‘round” continues to ring true. 

The latest case-in-point is UC Santa Cruz women’s head basketball coach Nikki Turner, who after five years at UCSC is bidding adieu to Monterey Bay in favor of a head assistant coaching position with the women’s team at Cal State East Bay. 

Turner acknowledges that the tumultuous financial state of UCSC’s athletic program played into her decision to leave.

“I think that was definitely a part of it,” Turner said. “I mean, it’s [CSU East Bay], an athletically supported university — there’s money that goes into the programs and student athletes. I get paid as a full-time coach instead of having to piece together my position.”

She said that the fact that CSU East Bay is a Division II school was a major factor, as it has been her “long-term goal” to coach in that division and conference after having played and coached in it before.

Her departure continues a trend of UCSC coaches leaving for universities with better athletic department funding — the most recent being former men’s head soccer coach Dan Chamberlain — amid tough economic times for UCSC as a whole and the athletics department in particular. 

Turner’s decision has a big impact off the court, as she is also the assistant athletic director and sports information director for UCSC. As a result of her decision, the athletic department has decided to eliminate the position of assistant athletic director as a cost-cutting measure.

Although Turner acknowledges that negative effects may stem from this decision, she says there is a huge plus side: It will save more sports from winding up on the chopping block, a fate that has recently reached water polo. 

“[The athletic department] was told they had to make cuts to the budget again this year, and with me leaving it actually helped,” Turner said, “because they were able to cut that instead of having to hurt more teams.”

Coach Todd Kent, who is replacing Turner as the women’s head basketball coach, said that while he was aware of the financial problems at UCSC before accepting the position, he was not deterred by them.

“I’m aware of the issues and they were open and honest with me, but I’m not concerned — we can learn to work together and try to be as efficient as we possibly can,” Kent said.

Speaking from her position as assistant athletic director, Turner said that the public’s perception of the department’s fiscal issues has been more or less accurate.

“I wouldn’t say it’s in a lot of trouble — I think it’s just really struggling, which makes it really difficult to stay optimistic,” Turner said. “Your concern is how you’re going to maintain your program and not have your players and athletes feel the burden of the department and lack of funds. You’re just worried all the time, you’re wondering how you’re going to feed and house your players on road trips, and on top of that try to take care of yourself financially.” 

Junior Molly Davisson said she noticed that her coach was under a lot of pressure. While team members will miss Turner, they are grateful to be getting a coach who won’t have to deal with those added stresses, she said.

“All of us wanted to have someone in Coach Turner’s absence who had everything together … and [who would] not have to worry about having that as their full source of income,” Davisson said. “[We wanted] someone that didn’t have outside stresses so they could be more focused and less stressed.”

That someone is Kent, who comes to Santa Cruz after having spent the past two years as an assistant coach at Seattle University. Prior to that he spent 12 years coaching high school basketball, his most recent stint being a five-year period at La Salle High School in Yakima, Wash., where he compiled a record of 106-23. 

Putting thoughts about finances aside, Kent said his main objective for the upcoming season will be for the team to improve without high regard for the wins column.

“My overall goal is to get better each and every day in practice, and to create an atmosphere that’s physically and mentally challenging,” Kent said. “If we can do those things, the winning will take care of itself.”

Turner said that while her tenure as a head coach at UCSC was “a great experience,” the opportnity and the timing of the new position were too perfect to pass up.

“The people I’ve worked for have been amazing and it’s just been a positive place for me to be,” Turner said. “But it’s definitely time to move on.”