College - Texas '82
Regarded as one of the brightest young women’s basketball coaches in the country, Nell Fortner is in her third season at the helm of the Indiana Fever. Albeit brief in longevity, her head coaching resume is dotted with success and experience that is already matched by few in her profession. Since her first coaching assignment in 1983-84, she has achieved continuous success throughout her 19-year career at the high school, college, pro and international coaching levels.
Since her first college coaching assignment in 1986-87, she has experienced a season with fewer wins than losses just once. While helping guide the WNBA’s Fever as its head coach and general manager, she lifted the upstart franchise during the 2002 season to a .500 record and the club’s first playoff appearance in history. Enjoying her dual role as the franchise’s head coach and general manager, she continues to work alongside Chief Operating Officer Kelly Krauskopf to build what Indiana executives hope will become continued playoff appearances.
A renowned coaching clinician and motivational speaker, and a respected TV analyst, her professional profile has risen beyond that of a coach. Her engaging personality, along with a crisp analysis and understanding of the game’s players, coaches and issues, has helped her forge a regular role during ESPN’s women’s college basketball coverage. Since 2001, she has served as the cable network’s studio analyst during the winter season and through each of the past three NCAA Tournaments.
Fortner formally began her career in pro basketball on Aug. 17, 1999 when she was named head coach of the Indiana Fever. Already committed to her post as the coach of the United States Olympic Team however, she coached the USA to a gold medal at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, before joining the Fever for the 2001 campaign.
Her stint with the Fever marks her second career stop in the Hoosier State. Fortner was named by Basketball Times as the national coach of the year in the college ranks in 1997, after leading Purdue to a share of the Big Ten regular season title with a team that returned just four players. Fortner guided the Boilermakers to a 12-4 conference mark and a 17-11 record overall, advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament where they were eliminated in overtime by eventual NCAA runner-up Old Dominion.
Fortner joined the Boilermakers after a season with the USA Women’s National Team Program. One year later, she rejoined the USA Basketball staff when she was tabbed to guide the country’s women’s basketball fortunes into the next quadrennium. She was named as head coach of the Women’s National Team Program on April 1, 1997, boasting impressive credentials as both a former player and coach within the USA program.
Upon her naming as the USA coach, she spent three years traveling the globe, coaching 10 different U.S. squads to an impressive 93-14 (.869) overall record before capturing her most prized title while in Sydney. From gold at the ’98 World Championships to gold in 2000 in Sydney, Fortner led the U.S. Women’s National Program to a 101-14 three-year record, the most wins of any coach in Women’s USA Basketball history.
Her first experience with USA Basketball, sandwiched between college stints at Louisiana Tech and Purdue, served as a preview of things to come. Beginning in summer 1995, Fortner served as an assistant for two seasons to 1996 Olympic mentor Tara VanDerveer – overseeing the national team’s weights and conditioning program and the development of perimeter players, as well as the scouting of opponents and video game analysis. Team USA posted an amazing 52-0 run that culminated with a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. One year later, Fortner was named to succeed VanDerveer as the U.S. head coach.
Before venturing into the world of Olympic basketball and the WNBA, Fortner had long been regarded as one of the country’s finest college assistants, combining nine seasons between longtime women’s powers Louisiana Tech and Stephen F. Austin.
A 1982 graduate of the University of Texas and a Mississippi native, Fortner began her coaching career as the girls basketball coach at Killeen High School in Texas. She turned to the college ranks as a graduate assistant at Stephen F. Austin during the 1986-87 campaign while completing a master’s degree in education. She later spent three seasons as an assistant coach at SFA, helping guide the Ladyjacks to a remarkable 87-12 (.879) record and three straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
She joined the staff at Louisiana Tech as an assistant for five years beginning in the 1990-91 season. Under the direction of hall of fame coach Leon Barmore, the Lady Techsters made five straight NCAA Tournament appearances during Fortner’s tenure, including a trip to the national championship game in 1994. The Lady Techsters logged a sparkling 123-37 (.794) record during those five seasons.
Including her season as head coach at Purdue, Fortner’s college teams made nine consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and tallied a 10-year college record of 252-66 (.792).
Herself a standout player at Texas from 1978-81, Fortner helped guide the Longhorns to a 127-26 record during her four college seasons. She led Texas to its first national ranking in women’s basketball and a seventh-place finish at the AIAW national tournament – and helped pave the trail for one of the country’s most storied programs. Her 1,466 career points are among the top scoring leaders in school history, and her 142 games played still are fourth in Texas annals. Further, as a middle hitter, she also helped lead the Texas volleyball team to the 1981 AIAW national championship.
She made her USA Basketball debut as a member of the silver medal-winning 1978 U.S. Olympic Festival South Team, averaging 6.0 points and 4.3 rebounds a game.
Fortner was appointed to the University of Texas Women’s Athletics Wall of Honor in November 2001. A graduate of New Braunfels High School where she was an all-state basketball selection and a Parade All-American, she was named to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame during the same month.
Fortner resides in Indianapolis with Holly, Peyton and Tate, a Yorkshire Terrier, a golden retriever and a hound mix that are huge Fever fans!