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Mike McLaughlin didn’t know much about losing.

Before replacing Pat Knapp as the Penn women’s basketball coach last April, McLaughlin spent 14 years at Division II Holy Family, posting the best winning percentage in the NCAA — any division, any gender.

But in his first season as the Quakers’ head coach, he was acclimated to losing quickly. The team went 2-26 this season, setting a program record for number of losses in a season. They nearly became the first Penn squad in over 30 years to go winless in conference play, before beating Dartmouth in the final Ivy weekend.

Yesterday, The Daily Pennsylvanian sat down with McLaughlin to discuss his reflections on this season and vision for retooling the program.

Daily Pennsylvanian: What’s it like to struggle after so much success?

Mike McLaughlin: There are times I thought, “Am I doing everything within my ability to make them better?” They needed a strong leader in adversity.

It wasn’t easy. I’m not sitting here and painting this great picture. I’m a realist. But in the face of the team, I was determined never to show — I was determined to fight on with them.

I know we’re judged by winning and losing at the end of the day. But what we had is what we did. I think we did well for what we had.

DP: Did you think it would be this challenging?

MM: I looked at the team, I looked at the roster, and basically, that’s what I was going by. I knew they had lost a lot of scoring to graduation. My first goal was to make sure that they were at ease, that these are my players. I think that’s important when you come into a new program that some of the players always hear that that wasn’t my recruit. But I reached out: You’re my team.

DP: Have you spoken to Knapp at all?

MM: I have not. I didn’t know him.

DP: How important was the team’s win against Dartmouth?

MM: It validated their hard work, that they actually worked hard for something.

We were setting up small, reachable, attainable goals — let’s try to out-rebound this team, let’s try to beat them at so many loose balls — so at the end of the day, we could say alright, we got better.

DP: How tough is it for a new coach to come in but have no control over the personnel?

MM: We have to get creative. Hopefully, as we develop the program, as we get some new players in here, we can do things a little bit differently. But I wasn’t going to say, “Well I did it this way, that’s the way we’re going to do it here at Penn.” We slowly will hopefully get into that, but it’s going to take some time.

DP: Have you spoken with Athletic Director Steve Bilsky about how much time you have to turn around the program?

MM: We didn’t have that conversation. I know what my contract is here, and the length of it. I think everyone’s aware of what’s here. I have to be careful because these are my players. I’ll get myself in trouble if I say the wrong thing here.

I do think that the school understands that this is going to take some time. And I think they have confidence that I’ve done it before and I’ll be able to do it again.

DP: What is the length of your contract?

MM: I don’t know if I should share that. It’s multi-year. I’ll be here hopefully forever. [laughs].

DP: I somehow doubt they gave you a lifetime contract.

MM: [laughs] No, I didn’t get a lifetime contract. But I have a four-year deal that I can hopefully earn time on that and we can build something.

I don’t want to get up here and go down. Hopefully we do it right and build a foundation that can be consistently even. It’s a high goal.

DP: What’s the No. 1 thing you have to do to build that foundation?

MM: We have to recruit. We have to get talent. I think that’s pretty clear.

We have five players coming in next year, and my message to the returning players is that you have to be even better than you were in terms of your work ethic so these five freshmen have to come in and say, “Wow, these women work hard.”

DP: Are there certain skill sets or positions you need?

MM: We need help on the scoring side — we’ve really struggled. Obviously, that is a glaring weakness. So we need to bring in kids who can score here, who are hard-nosed kids.

We have two post kids coming in, we have a point guard coming in, we have two wings coming in. We’re trying to get all around.

DP: What’s your recruiting pitch?

MM: It’s an opportunity to come in here and play. You can impact this program quickly. But also buying into the philosophy. I’ve won where I was before because we did it this way, this is the way we’re going to do it here.

We’re not hiding and trying to say, “Well, don’t look at the record.” We’re building a program. There ain’t no doubt. I’m not hiding the fact. You want to help us build this program, come on board.

DP: Have you ever regretted leaving Holy Family?

MM: Never. Never. This is where I want to be for a long time. I came here to build a program for years to come. I have absolutely zero regrets, and if I could do it over again, I would have done it again.

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