As a Washington state native and Boise State University graduate, Elaine Elliott has ingrained herself as a Utahn for nearly 40 years.
Elaine’s impact with the University of Utah women’s basketball program qualifies as historic. In four years as an assistant coach and 27 years as head coach, she helped make the Utes a regional power and a national fixture in the NCAA Tournament.
The drudgery of assembling travel trailers and mobile homes during her college summers made Elaine realize she needed to find a career that would allow her to do something she loved every day. That was coaching basketball. A multisport athlete who became the first woman inducted into the Boise State University Athletic Hall of Fame, Elaine coached at Boise High School for two years, winning a state championship, before joining the legendary Fern Gardner at Utah for four years and eventually becoming her successor.
In those 27 years as head coach, Elaine posted a 582-234 record (.713), averaging 22 wins per season. To illustrate her consistency, 20 of her teams won at least 20 games. She made 15 appearances in the NCAA Tournament with several breakthroughs: the school’s first victory in 1997, the first Sweet 16 appearance in 2001 and the first Elite Eight run in 2006.
The ’06 team came within a free throw of beating Maryland in regulation and advancing to the Final Four, but lost in overtime.
Four years later, while deciding to retire from the school, she would reflect, “Our place in the women’s basketball world is something to be proud of.”
She really did mean “the world.” A major aspect of her legacy is the recruitment of Canadian players, who have been represented on Utah’s roster in every year since 1997. Following the 2016 Olympics, the Canadian national team that included three of her Utah recruits moved to No. 6 in the FIBA rankings, having reached the quarterfinals in Rio de Janeiro.
Kim Smith Gaucher, Canada’s team captain, is the only Ute women’s basketball player to have her jersey (No. 4) retired and hanging in the Huntsman Center.
Elaine was inducted into Utah’s Crimson Club Hall of Fame in 2014, three years after turning over the program to an assistant. She remained involved in basketball by assisting Shelly Jarrard, her former aide with the Utes, for four years at Westminster College, as the Griffins won four Frontier Conference championship and had annual success in the NAIA Tournament.
Once asked what she enjoyed most about coaching, Elaine said, “Figuring out how to beat people. I love that.”
And she succeeded consistently, with a knack of developing players and maximizing their talent. She coached 16 All-Americans, 11 conference players of the year and four WNBA draftees. Elaine was honored nine times as a conference coach of the year, five times as a WBCA regional coach of the year and once as a John and Nellie Wooden national coach of the year.
On a national level, Elaine served as a head coach in the 1990 U.S. Olympic Festival and was an assistant for the U.S. Junior National Team in 1991.