In March, Faith Mimnaugh announced her retirement after 25 seasons as the women’s basketball head coach at Cal Poly.
“Cal Poly gave me a career and they put me in a place where I have been able to realize my dreams far exceeding anything I could have imagined for myself,” Mimnaugh said.
Mimnaugh, who was hired in 1997, retired as the winningest coach in Mustang history with 338 career wins. She earned numerous accolades during her tenure, as she was named Big West Coach of the Year two times, led Cal Poly to back-to-back Big West regular-season championships in 2011 and 2012 and secured the program’s first Big West Tournament title in 2013 to take the team to its first NCAA Tournament.
While most coaches might instantly reflect back to a championship, the most memorable moment for Mimnaugh every year was graduation day. Mimnaugh’s players earned All-Academic honors 66 times and the program achieved 100 percent graduation rates in both 2017 and 2018.
“There is not a time when I do not march into the stadium, hear the band play, see the exuberance from all the students coming in knowing I had a small piece of that process,” Mimnaugh said. “It just fills me with great pride.”
Graduate forward Kirsty Brown, who played for Mimnaugh for five years, reflected on Mimnaugh’s impact over the years.
“One of her main goals was shaping us as women and making us great women who are going to be successful,” Brown said. “Coach Mimnaugh had a positive impact on me on and off the court just by making sure I was setting myself up for success in my future career.”
In addition to academic success, Mimnaugh saw her players named to the all-conference team 51 times, 13 all-freshman honors, 13 all-tournament selections and 50 player-of-the-week accolades.
Abbey Ellis was one of those players who found success under Mimnaugh. Ellis now plays for Purdue after being at Cal Poly for her first two college years.
“She brought out the best in me,” Ellis said. “She did not try to change my identity as a player, and she let me be me.”
Coach Mimnaugh was better known by her players as a mother figure who made family an important aspect of the team. Even Mimnaugh felt like a motherly figure, as she described that one of the most impactful parts of being a coach was that it was like “having a baby over and over and over again.”
“I feel like she gave me a sense of belonging and a second home,” Ellis said. “She was a mother figure to a lot of us and you really need that in college.”
Specifically, Brown remembers coming into the program as a shy and closed off freshman, but Mimnaugh made her feel more comfortable. Mimnaugh would have meetings every other week, not only with Brown, but with all of her players about basketball, academics and life in general.
Outside of the bi-weekly meetings, Mimnaugh made sure that everyone was comfortable coming to her with questions, whether it was basketball or non-basketball related, according to Brown.
“We laugh, cry and she really is such a big supporter and mentor in my life,” Brown said. “I know I am going to have her as a friend for the rest of my life.”
As a person, Mimnaugh put her players before herself. A prime example of this came when Brown was set to break the record for most games played in program history before she got injured with three weeks left in the season. However, Mimnaugh made the decision to start Brown and substitute her immediately after tip-off during that stretch to ensure that she got the record.
“I think it goes to show how much she does care about us as individuals and not just as players,” Brown said.
Ellis echoed Brown’s sentiments.
“She put her players before herself,” Ellis said. “She would be one of those people who made sure we would eat before she ate.”
Mimnaugh’s name will be in Cal Poly record books for her accolades, but the impact she made on her players might just be her greatest accomplishment.