Nikki Caldwell, who won national championships as both a player and an assistant coach at Tennessee and turned UCLA into a national power in just three years, has quickly brought the LSU women’s basketball program back to national prominence.
Caldwell brings to LSU the combination of outstanding in-game coaching ability with that of being a tremendous recruiter. In addition, she has been a leader off the court in the Baton Rouge community, helping the Lady Tigers connect with the city of Baton Rouge while donating their time and efforts to making a difference.
In the classroom, LSU has been a shining example of the definition of student-athlete. The Lady Tigers have recorded a perfect score of 100 in graduation success rate released by the NCAA during all three seasons under Caldwell.
Caldwell was officially introduced as the school’s seventh women’s basketball coach on April 4, 2011. She has produced a trio of 20-win seasons and an overall record of 66-36 (.647) over her three seasons at the helm of the Lady Tigers. LSU has secured three NCAA Tournament appearances highlighted by back-to-back trips to NCAA Sweet 16 and 13 victories over ranked opponents.
The 2013-14 season was filled with numerous memorable moments as the Lady Tigers took on the nation’s toughest schedule with 28 of their 34 games against RPI Top 100 opponents. LSU fired out to a 17-4 start highlighted by a Barclays Invitational Championship which included victories over Rutgers and Michigan along with the program’s first victory at Tennessee since the 2007-08 season.
After a six-game losing streak to end the regular season, Caldwell and the Lady Tigers regrouped for the NCAA Tournament. LSU came out clicking on all cylinders and collected a 98-78 win over Georgia Tech during the opening round. The 98 points were a program NCAA Tournament single-game mark.
The Lady Tigers lost All-SEC Freshman Team guard Raigyne Moncrief to injury during the Georgia Tech game, and senior guard Jeanne Kenney was injured in the first half of LSU’s NCAA Second Round matchup versus No. 7 West Virginia.
Without two of its top four scorers, the Lady Tigers dug deep and put together a 20-4 finishing kick over the last five minutes and scored on their final 10 possessions to come away with a 76-67 victory over the Mountaineers. Danielle Ballard turned in a NCAA Tournament effort for the ages as she racked up 23.3 points and 14.0 rebounds per game over LSU’s three postseason games. At the team’s end of the year banquet, each student-athlete received a courage award instead of individual accolades.
Theresa Plaisance notched a second consecutive All-SEC First-Team selection and was the 18th player in program history to amass over 1,000 career points and 500 career rebounds. Plaisance was joined by Shanece McKinney among the program’s Top 5 in blocked shots. The duo went on to continue their professional careers in the WNBA; Plaisance with the Tulsa Shock and McKinney with the New York Liberty. Kenney finished ranked inside LSU’s Top 10 with 137 three-pointers and 372 assists. She is serving as a graduate assistant at UCLA.
Caldwell’s second season in Baton Rouge was a memorable one as the Lady Tigers reached the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008. LSU recorded double-digit SEC victories for the second straight year and despite a rash of injuries, put together a team with excellent chemistry that finished the season ranked No. 21 in the Coaches poll. LSU’s seven-game winning streak to close the regular season was the longest into the SEC Tournament since winning seven in a row from 1985-86.
The Lady Tigers developed the motto “eight is enough” and used it to dominate No. 13 Texas A&M on the Aggies home floor by a score of 67-52 in the regular season finale. LSU beat Green Bay in the NCAA first round before claiming arguably the signature win of the Caldwell era in the NCAA second round.
LSU, without Kenney and dressed with seven players, knocked off No. 8 Penn State, 71-66, in a raucous Maravich Center to reach the Sweet 16.
In addition, Caldwell developed Plaisance into one of the nation’s most improved players as the New Orleans native led the SEC in scoring and became the school’s first league scoring champion since Seimone Augustus.
Caldwell recruited Ballard, an All-SEC Freshman Team pick. In her first season, Ballard shattered the LSU single-season record for steals with 100. Plaisance, Ballard and senior Adrienne Webb earned All-SEC honors.
Caldwell revived the LSU program from her opening press conference. A summer full of speaking engagements, building the fan base and connecting with her players led to a season where attendance increased by an average of over 1,500 fans from the previous season.
After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 13 years a season prior to her arrival, Caldwell spearheaded the squad to the 2012 NCAA Tournament second round and its first appearance in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game since 2008. The Lady Tigers reached 23 wins – their highest total since the 2008 Final Four season – won 10 conference games for the first time since 2009 and claimed wins over five ranked teams during the season.
Despite suffering several key injuries, Caldwell led LSU to a six-game win streak late in the SEC season and the Lady Tigers twice knocked off SEC regular season champion Kentucky. She met her mentor in the SEC Championship Game as LSU squared off against Pat Summitt’s Tennessee Lady Vols. Though the Lady Tigers lost, LSU took on Caldwell’s persona – that of toughness and a relentless desire to never quit.
Caldwell developed All-SEC forward LaSondra Barrett into one of the nation’s best players. After an NCAA Tournament Second Round appearance against Penn State, Barrett became the first LSU player selected in the first round of the WNBA Draft since 2008 when she was taken 10th overall by the Washington Mystics.
Well respected in coaching circles, Caldwell has twice been selected by the USA Women’s Basketball Committee to serve as an assistant coach for USA National Teams. In the summer of 2012, she became the first coach in LSU history to serve on a USA U18 team staff since the squad’s inception in 1988. That team claimed the gold medal at the FIBA Americas Championship.
In the summer of 2013, most of that group reunited to lead the USA U19 National Team to a gold medal at the FIBA World Championships in Lithuania. Caldwell is the only coach in LSU history to claim multiple USA gold medals during her tenure as Lady Tiger head coach.
Caldwell has been a part of a championship and winning pedigree at every level of her career. She played, coached and studied under one of the game’s greatest figures, the legendary Pat Summitt at Tennessee and she assisted Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Debbie Ryan at Virginia.
Widely recognized as one of the nation’s top assistant coaches during stints at Tennessee and Virginia, Caldwell took over at UCLA in 2008. In three years with the Bruins, she turned around a UCLA program that had won only one NCAA Tournament game in the nine years prior to her arrival.
Caldwell led the Bruins to a 72-26 (.735) overall mark, reached the NCAA Tournament twice and finished second in the Pac-10 Conference in both 2010 and 2011. She was named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year in 2010 after going 25-9 overall and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Her best season at UCLA came in 2011 as she led the Bruins to 28 victories, just one shy of the school mark of 29 set back in 1980-81. The Bruins spent the entire 2010-11 season ranked in the top 20 and they claimed the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. UCLA finished the year with just five losses, the fewest in school history during the NCAA era.
The 2010-11 season saw UCLA set school records for regular season victories (26), Pac-10 wins (16), road victories (10) and scoring defense (55.3 ppg). Caldwell also signed the nation’s third-ranked recruiting class behind only Tennessee and Connecticut according to ESPNHoopGurlz.com, and she helped develop junior post player Jasmine Dixon into an Associated Press Honorable Mention All-American.
Caldwell made an immediate impact in her first season as a head coach in 2008-09, directing UCLA to a 19-12 overall record and a fourth-place finish in the Pac-10. In addition, for the first time since the 1986-87 season, the Bruins won as many as nine non-conference games prior to Pac-10 play.
Caldwell and her staff then proceeded to haul in the 14th-ranked recruiting class in the nation according to ESPN HoopGurlz.com, headlined by McDonald's All-American Markel Walker. The staff added another McDonald's All-American for 2009-10 in transfer Jasmine Dixon.
Her second Bruin team finished with 25 wins, the fourth-most in school history, and advanced to the second round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. After a mid-January setback in conference play, the Bruins lost only to NCAA runner-up Stanford (twice) and No. 4-ranked Nebraska, both of which who earned NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeds.
UCLA won 15 of its last 18 contests of the 2009-10 season en route to the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006. The squad won 15 conference games, finished second in the Pac-10 and they limited opponents to then a school-record 55.7 points per game.
In six seasons as head coach at both UCLA and LSU, Caldwell owns a 138-62 (.690) overall record and a 67-35 (.657) mark in conference play.
Caldwell broke into the head coaching ranks after serving as an assistant on Summitt’s staff at Tennessee from 2002-08. During that time, she helped the Lady Vols capture a pair of NCAA titles in 2007 and 2008 and reach the Final Four a total of five times. The Lady Vols compiled an impressive 195-24 mark and won three Southeastern Conference regular season titles during her six years as an assistant coach.
Caldwell joined the Tennessee staff for the 2002-03 season and became the recruiting director in the spring of 2003. Her impact was immediate as the Lady Vols signed perhaps the most prolific freshmen class in the history of women's collegiate basketball in the fall of 2003. That class consisted of six 2004 high school All-Americans, including three players of the year. In 2008, Caldwell helped sign five players who went on to play in the prestigious McDonald’s All-American Game.
In 2008, the Lady Vols captured a second straight NCAA championship and finished with a record of 36-2. National Player of the Year Candace Parker, the No. 1 selection in the WNBA draft and the 2008 WNBA MVP, led a group of five Lady Vols to be drafted into the WNBA on the day following the championship.
Prior to her return as a coach at her alma mater, Caldwell served as an assistant at the University of Virginia for three seasons from 1999-2002. She was responsible for recruiting, scouting, film exchange, player development, camps and monitoring academic progress of student-athletes. Virginia compiled a record of 60-36 in her three seasons in Charlottesville and advanced to the NCAA Tournament each year. She helped develop standout Atlantic Coast Conference players Telisha Quarles and forward Brandi Teamer, the 2002 ACC Rookie of the Year.
As a player at Tennessee from 1990-94, Caldwell was known as a tenacious defender with tremendous three-point shooting ability. The Lady Vols posted a 118-13 mark during her four-year career, winning the NCAA title during her freshman season of 1991 and capturing two SEC regular season championships and a pair of SEC Tournament titles.
Caldwell still ranks among the top 10 in Tennessee history in three-point field goals made (128) and three-point shots attempted (364). She burst onto the scene as a rookie, scoring 20 points in her first collegiate game against Stanford. Caldwell earned SEC All-Freshman honors in 1991. In the 1991 NCAA title game victory over Virginia, Caldwell's defense was considered a key in the Lady Vols’ overtime win in New Orleans. She received the Gloria Ray Leadership Award in both her junior and senior seasons at Tennessee.
After graduating with a degree in public relations in 1994, Caldwell moved behind the microphone as a color analyst on Tennessee games for Fox Sports Net South. She went on to become the color analyst for the SEC's Game of the Week from 1995-97. Her television exposure opened the door for her to become the hostess of the sports segments for the Knoxville-based cable network show, Shop at Home (1997-98).
Caldwell’s television career continued in Los Angeles during her tenure as UCLA coach. She joined CBS2/KCAL's Jim Hill as an analyst on Sports Central for the NCAA men's basketball tournament and she was also frequently on Los Angeles Laker pregame and halftime shows. Caldwell served as an analyst for ESPN during the 2011 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
In 1998, Caldwell decided to return to basketball, becoming a graduate assistant for administration for Tennessee. During the 1998-99 season, Tennessee went 31-3 and captured the SEC regular season and SEC Tournament titles. Caldwell was responsible for assisting the coaching staff in all aspects of basketball operations.
The Oak Ridge, Tenn., native owns an impressive 543-137 (.799) record as a player, graduate assistant, assistant coach and head coach dating back to her freshman season of 1990-91 at Tennessee.
Off the court, Caldwell is a passionate crusader for breast cancer awareness. She and Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick have founded the non-profit organization, Champions for a Cause. Since 2007, they have raised over $300,000 through Cruisin' for a Cause, a long-haul motorcycle adventure to raise dollars and awareness for a cure for breast cancer.
In the spring of 2011, Caldwell’s journey navigated through the Midwest and ended in California. The 2012 ride began with a fundraiser in Baton Rouge and continued to New Orleans where both Caldwell and Warlick visited patients at a hospital.
Caldwell and Warlick chronicle their cross-country rides on their website, http://www.cruisinforacause.com/. In 2010, Caldwell joined the Board of Directors for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund and is currently serving on the Executive Committee as Treasurer.
Caldwell has been prominent in the Baton Rouge community since her arrival, making appearances at the Baton Rouge Food Bank and schools in the East Baton Rouge Parish system. The Lady Tigers show their commitment to service and are involved in numerous community initiatives. A few examples are the Alzheimer’s Services Walk/Run to Remember where the team has served as honorary starters and making regular visits to Charlie’s Place, a respite center for Alzheimer’s patients.
The Baton Rouge Business Report named Caldwell to the area's "Forty Under Forty," which recognizes stars in the community. In May 2013, Caldwell was elected to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Board of Directors.
Caldwell, 42, was raised in Oak Ridge, Tenn., by her mother, Jean Caldwell. She and her husband Justin Fargas are the proud parents of a daughter, Justice Simone Fargas, who was born on March 6, 2012.
Caldwell has a younger sister, Simone, brother-in-law, Kirk and niece, Khayla. Her uncle, Mike, played 11 seasons in the NFL as a linebacker. He currently serves as the linebackers coach for the Arizona Cardinals.
The Nikki Caldwell File
Birthdate: May 21, 1972
Hometown: Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Alma Mater: Tennessee, 1994 (Public Relations)
1990-94 Tennessee, 118-13 record, 1991 NCAA Champions
Year, Position, School
1998-99, Graduate Assistant, Tennessee
1999-2002, Assistant Coach, Virginia
2002-08, Assistant Coach, Tennessee
2008-11, Head Coach, UCLA
2011-present, Head Coach, LSU
What They Are Saying ...
“I am absolutely thrilled for Nikki. It’s UCLA’s loss and LSU’s fantastic gain to get a brilliant, rising coach of Nikki Caldwell’s caliber. LSU is committed to its women’s basketball program both financially and with the resources they have in place to compete amongst the best teams in the nation. The Southeastern Conference will become much stronger with Nikki joining the league. Her accomplishments in the three short seasons she was at UCLA is indicative of more of what will come from Nikki and her staff at LSU.”
-- Pat Summitt, Tennessee head coach and Hall of Famer
“Nikki Caldwell is a superstar in our profession. She is the quintessential ‘players’ coach who understands that each player is unique and must be motivated differently to get their maximum effort every night. Nikki has a style and grace that garners immediate attention. She has a great moral compass for the way things ought to be in life. LSU may have hired a coach but they acquired a tremendous person who will achieve greatness beyond the athletic realm.”
-- Debbie Ryan, Former Virginia head coach and Hall of Famer
“LSU should get the hire of the year award in hiring Nikki Caldwell. When you look at what she did at UCLA in a short amount of time, Nikki is a winner. She works hard. She knows how to relate to people and she is a constant student of the game. There is more than one way to do things and she is going to find the right way that works with the players she has. The folks in the community are going to love her. She’s a Southern girl being from Oak Ridge, Tenn. I am sure she already feels like she is home being now in Baton Rouge.”
-- Carolyn Peck, ESPN analyst and former Purdue/Florida head coach and Tennessee assistant coach
“When I started making phone calls around and asking people who I should look at to take this position, Nikki Caldwell’s name came up every single time, and I’m not kidding you. Every single person I talked to brought up her name, so I said I need to meet this lady, and I did. I was obviously very impressed. She’s a star, she’s a role model and she has the priorities of the young student-athletes in her heart and in her mind. She wants to make them better, not just as basketball players but as people, and that’s what this is all about.”
-- LSU Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Joe Alleva
“In Caldwell, the Lady Tigers not only have a proven winner, but a charismatic young coach whose reputation for camera presence, fashion sense, an affinity for high-heel shoes and Harley Davidson motorcycles precedes her. Because the news of her hiring over the weekend sparked calls from fans interested in when 2011-12 season tickets go on sale, the athletic department decided to start selling them on Monday—far earlier than usual.”
-- Associated Press
“Listening to Caldwell speak and field questions for about a half hour, one thing became apparent: She has “it,” whatever “it” is, that indefinable quality that allows certain people to walk into a room, calm the chatter and become the center of attention. … No one knew it, but the Caldwell era was waiting on the other side, and being in her presence Monday you couldn’t help but think it was a prelude to LSU’s version of CBS’ “One Shining Moment.”
-- Scott Rabalais, Baton Rouge Advocate
Head Coaching Record
||NCAA Second Round
||NCAA Second Round
||NCAA Second Round; SEC Tournament Champ. Game
||NCAA Sweet 16
||NCAA Sweet 16
Assistant Coaching Record
||NCAA Sweet 16, ACC Champions
||NCAA First Round
||NCAA First Round
||NCAA National Runner-Up, SEC Champions
||NCAA National Runner-Up, SEC Champions
||NCAA Final Four, SEC Tournament Champions
||NCAA Elite Eight, SEC Tournament Champions
||NCAA National Champions, SEC Champions
||NCAA National Champions, SEC Tournament Champs