Jon Newlee was hired as the ninth head coach in University of Idaho women’s basketball history on April 15, 2008.
Despite inheriting a team that won just four games the season before his arrival, Newlee has led Idaho to three postseason bids -- including two NCAA tournament bids -- in his six seasons at the helm. Newlee has won two WAC tournament championship, 57 conference games, nine conference tournament games and two WAC Coach of the Year honors. He led the program to its first postseason appearance in 25 years with a WBI bid in 2011 and its first NCAA bid since 1985 by winning the 2013 WAC tournament.
The 2013-14 season marked Newlee’s sixth at Idaho, 30th as a collegiate coach and 15th as a head coach. Newlee has a 221-209 (.514) record in 15 seasons as a head coach, and a 93-95 (.495) record at Idaho and a 57-39 (.594) record in WAC play.
The 2013-14 Vandals put together a season not seen since 1984-85. They have recorded the school’s first back-to-back tips to the NCAA Tournament in program history. The 25 wins were the most since winning a school-record 28 in 1985-86. Idaho ripped off a streak of 10-straight conference-wins, dominating play in the Western Athletic Conference.
Newlee quickly developed his young team into champions in 2012-13. The Vandals started three true freshmen in 20 of 32 games, going 12-8 in those games, en route to the WAC championship. Idaho, picked to finish sixth in the WAC preseason media poll, went 11-7 in WAC play to finish third, then knocked off the league’s top two seeds during its WAC title run.
Despite the loss of four starters from the previous year heading into the 2011-12 season, Newlee groomed a group of young talented players into winners by the end of the season. The Vandals, picked to finish seventh out of eight WAC schools, rallied to win six of their final nine regular season games to earn a fourth-place conference finish. Idaho then beat San Jose State in the WAC quarterfinals to advance to the WAC semifinals for the second time in three seasons.
Newlee took the Vandals to a new level in 2010-11 as Idaho earned the program’s first postseason bid in 25 years with a trip to the Women’s Basketball Invitational. Idaho’s 15-16 overall record marked the program’s most wins in a season since 2004-05. He also led the Vandals to the program’s 500th win during that season.
Newlee coached 2010-11 honorable mention All-American Yinka Olorunnife, who broke a host of rebounding records including the Idaho and WAC career records, the Idaho single-season record and the career record for rebounds in WAC games. In addition to her All-American honor, Olorunnife picked up WAC Player of the Week, second-team All-WAC, WAC All-Tournament team and WAC all-defensive team honors.
In 2009-10 Newlee led the Vandals to a milestone victory when Idaho topped New Mexico State in the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament. It was the first trip to the WAC semifinals in program history, as the Vandals finished the season one win away from playing for the WAC championship. Newlee led the Vandals to an 11-20 overall record, capped by an 8-8 record in WAC play and the No. 4 seed in the WAC tournament. The 2009-10 Vandals set a school record for most 3-pointers made in a season with 216, smashing the previous record of 203 set by the 2004-05 squad.
In just his first season at Idaho in 2008-09, Newlee led the Vandal women to their best season in WAC play, as the team went 13-15 overall and 10-6 in the WAC on his way to being named the WAC Coach of the Year. In Idaho’s three years of WAC play prior to Newlee’s arrival, the Vandals had a combined record of 11-37 and had never finished higher than seventh in the league standings. In 2009, Idaho went 10-6, swept eventual champion Fresno State during the regular season, earned the program’s first win over Hawai’i, won back-to-back conference road games for the first time since joining the WAC, swept four WAC opponents and tied for third place in the conference. It was the third Coach of the Year honor of Newlee’s career, as he also earned Big Sky Coach of the Year in 2006 and co-Big Sky Coach of the Year in 2004.
Idaho’s turnaround was significant on the national level as well. In 2009, the Vandals’ final RPI ranking jumped 96 spots in the final ratings over the previous season, which tied as the 19th-largest RPI jump among NCAA teams. Idaho’s 9.5-game improvement was the seventh best in the NCAA in 2009.
What was even more impressive about Newlee’s first-year success was the he did it with a rotation of just six players, and with a team that only had one true post player. Despite the slim roster, there were still plenty of honors to go around. Yinka Olorunnife earned Second-Team All-WAC and WAC All-Defensive Team mention, Derisa Taleni earned WAC Newcomer of the Year and Second-Team All-WAC honors and Shaena-Lyn Kuehu was voted to the WAC All-Freshman Team. Newlee’s team was one of the most disciplined in the NCAA, as the Vandals led the WAC and ranked 15th in the NCAA with just 14.1 personal fouls per game, and ranked 90th out of 328 schools in turnovers per game. The Vandals also played a feisty brand of defense and came within 0.8 of breaking Idaho’s 19-year-old scoring defense record with a 59.5 defensive scoring average.
At Idaho State:
Newlee’s six-year tenure at Idaho State was marked with success, then more success. Prior to his arrival, Idaho State never had been invited to the Women’s NIT. He took the Bengals there three times in six seasons. He also became the second coach in Idaho State history to earn a Big Sky Coach of the Year award and he is the only one to win it multiple times. He recruited and coached All-Americans, All-Big Sky performers and school and conference record-holders. Newlee produced two of the three 20-win seasons in Idaho State history and four of the team’s five total post-season berths.
In just his second season at Idaho State in 2004, Newlee led the Bengals to a 20-9 record—a 14-win improvement over his first season—and a second-place finish in the Big Sky. After ISU lost to Montana in the Big Sky title game, the team earned an invitation to compete in the Women’s NIT for the first time in school history. After getting one taste of the postseason, the Bengals wanted even more. They got it in 2006. Newlee’s ISU squad went 17-13 overall and 11-3 in the Big Sky in 2006 to earn the Big Sky regular-season title and a second trip to the WNIT.
Newlee’s 2007 Bengals took it a step further. After going 17-14 during the season and 11-5 in the Big Sky, the Bengals took out Northern Arizona by an 84-78 margin to give Idaho State just its second conference tournament title and second NCAA bid. The Bengals faced No. 2 seed Stanford in the first round and fell, 96-58. In Newlee’s final season at the helm, the Bengals cruised to a 20-10 overall record, an 11-2 Big Sky record and a third WNIT berth—the team’s fourth post-season bid in five seasons.
Newlee is regarded highly a recruiter. While at Idaho State, he produced some of the best players the Big Sky ever saw. He coached Natalie Doma, a two-time honorable mention Associated Press All-American and 2008 Wooden Award and State Farm Wade Trophy finalist. She is the only player in Big Sky Conference history to be a finalist for the Wooden Award. Doma twice ranked in the top 10 in the NCAA in both scoring and rebounding in 2007 and 2008 and finished her career as the top scorer and rebounder in Idaho State and Big Sky Conference history.
Numerous players earned individual accolades during Newlee’s six-year tenure. Doma and Andrea Lightfoot earned three all-Big Sky first team honors each, which made them just two of three Bengals to achieve the feat in school history. Doma was also a two-time Big Sky Conference Player of the Year, while Lightfoot earned the honor once. He also coached one Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and 11 total all-Big Sky honorees. His athletes also earned 28 Academic All-Big Sky honors in his six seasons.
Before his time as head coach at Idaho State, Newlee spent 12 seasons as an assistant at the NCAA Division I level. His first stop was Texas-San Antonio, where, in 1991, he helped the Roadrunners to an 18-12 record. His next stop would be Southern Methodist, where he spent eight seasons and helped the Mustangs make five NCAA tournament appearances and one WNIT appearance. During his time at SMU, the Mustangs were 155-82 overall, compiled four 20-win seasons and finished in the top three in their respective conferences six times.
Following his time at SMU, he moved on to Hawai’i for three seasons (2000-02). He helped the Rainbow Wahine earn three successive WNIT berths and helped lead them to three successive 20-win seasons. Hawai’i was 69-25 overall in his three seasons and went a combined 37-11 in the Western Athletic Conference and never finished worse than second in the WAC.
In his first head-coaching stint, he took Southwestern College from a 2-14 record to a 22-6 record and an NJCAA Regional Tournament appearance in just three seasons (1987-89). He got his first coaching job at Saint Mary’s (CA), where he was an assistant from 1984-86. That team went a combined 64-25 and made one trip to the NAIA District III playoffs in 1986.
Newlee earned his bachelor’s degree in Physical Education from San Diego State in 1982. He has one daughter, Bailey.