South Carolina Basketball: According to poll, players love Dawn Staley but not Kim Mulkey

The Athletic polled 95 players in the NCAA Tournament, and South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley was the runaway winner of favorite coach.
South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley and LSU's Kim Mulkey back when the latter was at Baylor
South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley and LSU's Kim Mulkey back when the latter was at Baylor / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley widely is known to be one of the most popular coaches in women's college basketball. The head Gamecock took a fledgling program and turned it into the premier women's program in all of college basketball, overtaking the UConn Huskies and ending their dynasty along the way.

Staley and her Gamecocks are in the middle of yet another impressive NCAA Tournament run, one in which they have made their fourth Final Four in a row as they seek their 3rd national championship.

During this year's March Madness, The Athletic polled 95 players (85 of them who were playing in the Sweet Sixteen) about women's college basketball. One of the questions in the poll sought to find out which coaches are the most well-loved and most despised across the sport.

When prompted with the question, "If you couldn't play for your current coach, which other coach would you pick?", Dawn Staley was the runaway winner. Staley finished with 41 more votes than UConn's Geno Auriemma, who finished in 2nd place. Last year, The Athletic asked the same question, and Staley won by the same 41-vote margin.

The opposite question was also asked. "Which coach would you not want to play for?" also resulted in a landside winner (or would it be loser?). LSU's Kim Mulkey picked up nearly half of the votes, finishing 25 votes ahead of Oregon's Kelly Graves, who finished in 2nd.

To be clear, both Dawn Staley and Kim Mulkey are elite coaches, and in the modern game (with all due respect to Geno Auriemma and Tara VanDerveer who rank above Staley and Mulkey in the all-time coaching ranks), the two SEC coaches are probably #1 and #2 in the women's college basketball coaching ranks.

Both Staley and Mulkey are tough but care about their players. Both coaches recruit well and get results on the floor. Both coaches wear very expensive outfits in front of their benches (though, one's wardrobe is much...louder?...than the other).

Even so, it is not surprising to see how well-respected and loved Dawn Staley is compared to Mulkey in the eyes of players. While Mulkey gets more hate than she probably deserves, there are a couple of major differences between the two coaches that highlight the separation between them.

Chiefly, Staley separates herself from Mulkey with how she presents herself to basketball fans and the media. Perhaps nothing better illustrates that fact than how the two coaches handled the scuffle that broke out between the two teams in the SEC Tournament Championship Game.

As the Gamecocks were closing out their 16th-straight win over the Bayou Bengals, things got a bit out of hand after a hard foul. When all was said and done, Dawn Staley apologized live on-air to the ESPN television audience and the fans for what transpired. In her post-game press conference, Mulkey called it "ugliness," but then contradictorily stoked the flames when she said she wished that Angel Reese would have been the Tiger who got pushed, implying that she wanted a "fair fight" rather than no incident at all.

There really aren't that many differences between Coach Staley and Coach Mulkey as coaches, but the difference in perceived classiness and Staley's advantage in front of a microphone speaks volumes to players, and the poll from The Athletic proves that point.

Dawn Staley and her South Carolina basketball team will take on the NC State Wolfpack on Friday at 7:00 PM EST. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and streamed on the ESPN app.

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