ASU women’s basketball coach Charli Turner Thorne steps down after 25-season run

Arizona State women’s basketball coach Charli Turner Thorne announced that she is stepping down from the program. (Photo by Susan Wong/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – In a profession that rarely embraces longevity, Charli Turner Thorne defied the odds.

After an accomplished 25 seasons, the Arizona State women’s basketball coach announced at a press conference Thursday that she will step down.

Turner Thorne made the official announcement in a crowded Desert Financial Arena media room in front of many emotional ASU staffers, assistant coaches, players and family members.

“It has been my honor to be here and serve,” an emotional but relieved Turner Thorne said. “It is just time. It is just time.”

Turner Thorne is the winningest coach in ASU women’s basketball history and holds the second most career wins in the Pac-12. Turner Thorne, a two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year award winner, notably took a leave of absence during the 2011-12 season, citing the desire to regain life balance.

“The world is a lot different now than when I started in 1996,” Turner Thorne said. “I am excited to use this new chapter to continue to help people and hopefully serve our community here at an even grander scale.”

ASU was eliminated from the Pac-12 Tournament Wednesday following a 59-54 first-round loss to Oregon State.

The program has not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2019, when the Sun Devils advanced to the Sweet 16. The Sun Devils were anticipating a trip to the 2020 NCAA Tournament, but the event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. ASU advanced to five Sweet 16s and two Elite Eights during Turner Thorne’s tenure.

“Anybody that has ever coached knows that your best coaching job is never your best record,” Turner Thorne said. “I do feel like we emptied out, gave everything we had and it is time.”

Looking to leave a legacy of embracing the community and preparing players for every aspect of life, Turner Thorne said, after a momentary pause to flash through her 25-season tenure at ASU, she will reminisce on her time as a Sun Devil through the lens of character within her program.

Women’s basketball is one of three athletics programs in which ASU athletic director Ray Anderson has not made a hire at the head coaching position. Women’s tennis coach Sheila McInerney and water polo coach Todd Clapper now stand as the only two head coaches not hired by Anderson.

Turner Thorne had been the second-longest tenured head coach in the ASU athletic department, behind McInerney.

“When I heard the news that (she was going to retire), I wasn’t surprised but it was still a jolt,” Anderson said. “In all of my time here, I don’t recall one time that Charli and I had a conversation about when Charli would leave her job as head women’s basketball coach at Arizona State. The reason it never occurred was because Charli had earned the right, through her two-plus decades of leading this program … to determine, herself and with her family, when it was time to step away.”

The 29-year head coaching veteran began her career at Northern Arizona University, where she spent three seasons as head coach of the Lumberjacks.

Turner Thorne played collegiately at Stanford under coach Tara VanDerveer, a 2011 inductee of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

“There’s not any player that I’ve ever coached that is any more competitive than Charli,” VanDerveer said Thursday at the Pac-12 Tournament. “She’s a great competitor. And it’s kind of a little bit serendipitous that it’s at the Pac-12 Tournament. They won the first Pac-12 Tournament against us. She’s had a great career at ASU. She’s been a great competitor, a friend, someone that I really admire how hard she works and the teams that she’s put on the floor.”

“I really respect Charli,” University of Arizona women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes said. “She’s a really good coach. She’s a trailblazer in the profession. I love the fact she does so many other things. She’s a mom, she represents our game so well and and she’s been WBCA president.”

Turner Thorne hinted at possibly pursuing writing, broadcasting, consulting or teaching after stepping away to “take a breath.”

The Sun Devils finished with 12 wins this season and it is uncertain whether the team will participate in any postseason event.

“Charli’s commitment and her loyalty to this program has been unequivocal,” Anderson said. “Her accomplishments will live in our record books forever.”

Charli Turner Thorne set numerous program records in her 25 years at ASU.

Alex Coil ah-lex coil
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Alex Coil expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Coil, who is in Barrett, the Honors College, was the broadcasting and media relations manager for the Florence Y’alls baseball team in 2021. He is working for the Phoenix sports bureau.

Susan Wong soo-zin wah-ong (she/her/hers)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Susan Wong expects to graduate in May 2023 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Wong, who earned a bachelor’s in sports journalism in May 2022, is a digital media intern with Sun Devil Athletics.