An appreciation: Canes’ Katie Meier retiring too soon after 19 years of winning and class | Opinion

Katie Meier announced her retirement as Miami Hurricanes women’s basketball coach on Thursday, a day that should have found her courtside again at practice, preparing her team for its first-round game in the NCAA Tournament.

Her Canes reached the Elite Eight one year ago, a program first, and this season went 19-12, were expected to be invited by all forecasts and logic, should have been, but got unjustly snubbed on Sunday. UM was quickly invited to be a top seed in the secondary WNIT tournament but declined.

And so it ends. After 19 seasons. And too soon.

Meier’s sudden retirement was her idea, and it came as a surprise; she had four years left on her contract. UM men‘s coach Jim Larranaga retiring at 74 would have been much less a surprise. Meier is only 56. It is a major loss for UM athletics, although she will remain at the school in a special advisor/ambassador role with an emphasis on fundraising for women’s sports.

Though the NCAA cheated her of one last tournament run, she leaves on her terms, on her timetable, and with our appreciation and great respect.

Befitting her character, she left not with a shot at the NCAA selection committee, but with thanks.

“Nineteen years ago I was offered my dream job to be the head coach of the University of Miami, and while I have absolutely loved living that dream, it is with a heart full of pride and gratitude that I announce my retirement from coaching,” Meier said Thursday. “Miami is an incredibly special place, and my journey here has been an honor and a privilege. Today is a day to celebrate and reflect on the amazing success that was achieved through collaboration with outstanding people.”

Meier is UM’s all-time winningest basketball coach, women or men, with a 362-208 record. There were 11 20-win seasons and 10 NCAA Tournament invitations on her watch — including the program’s first Elite Eight last year. She was the AP National Coach of the Year in 2011.

More than all of that, she conducted herself with impeccable class, was a wonderful role model to her generations of players. She was a gift to UM, after a playing career starring at Duke and then four seasons coaching at Charlotte before her hiring here in 2005.

Said athletics director Dan Radakovich: “Katie [did] a remarkable job leading our women’s basketball program for nearly two decades. Her list of accomplishments speaks for itself, but her legacy extends far beyond the court. She has been an incredible ambassador not only for Miami basketball but for the sport of women’s basketball and for the University of Miami.”

Women’s college hoops has never been as big in Miami as it is in Iowa, Connecticut or elsewhere. This is as crowded a sports market as any in America, but Meier nonetheless ran a relentlessly winning program that finished ranked in the final Top 25 five times and had not had a losing season since 2008-09.

She went through much in her personal life but did so quietly.

Her father, Gerry Meier, died in a plane crash four months before she was born. Her mother in time married a widower and the couple combined raised eight children in what Meier called a “Brady Bunch family.” In 2014 Meier’s nephew, Philip Lutzenkirchen, a tight end at Auburn, died in an automobile accident. Meier wore a “43” pin (his uniform number) in his honor to every game she coached the past decade.

Meier’s 19 seasons were the most by a UM hoops coach. Her predecessor Ferne Labati coached 17 seasons. Larranaga just finished his 13th year.

No Canes football coach has served longer than Meier. In Miami professional sports only Don Shula did with 26 seasons for the Dolphins. (Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is in his 16th season.)

We don’t stop to appreciate often enough in sports, and then when we do at the end, it can feel too late.

The currency of sports, whether in the media or by fans, is too often discord and dissatisfaction. Loud gets heard. So we want to fire somebody, trade somebody, draft somebody new.

It’s too easy to take for granted somebody like Katie Meier, who for two decades won consistently and did right by UM.

She’ll say her formal goodbye at a news conference on Friday. She’ll still have an office on campus. She’ll still be around. But the University of Miami athletics family weathers a big loss in a sudden retirement that feels too soon.

We miss her already.