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Tara VanDerveer retires as Stanford women’s hoops coach after setting NCAA wins record this year

NCAA Womens Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament Semifinal Stanford vs Oregon St.

Mar 8, 2024; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Stanford Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer directs a player in a game against the Oregon State Beavers during the second quarter at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen R. Sylvanie/Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

STANFORD, Calif. — Tara VanDerveer lent her time and energy to a young Dawn Staley behind the scenes years before the South Carolina coach started winning championships or delivering an improbable undefeated season.

The Hall of Fame Stanford coach did the same for her Pac-12 rivals.

For Cori Close. For Lindsay Gottlieb. For Charmin Smith. For Charli Turner Thorne. And for Kate Paye, who will become VanDerveer’s successor now that the 70-year-old women’s basketball pioneer is retiring.

Nearly everybody has a story of how VanDerveer went out of her way to do something kind along the way during her decorated, four-decade career. She cherished her role in helping the sport any way she could. And now, she is leaving on a high note.

The winningest basketball coach in NCAA history announced her retirement after 38 seasons leading the Stanford women’s team and 45 years overall.

VanDerveer surpassed Mike Krzyzewski for the wins record in January. She departs with 1,216 victories at Idaho, Ohio State and Stanford.

“Basketball is the greatest group project there is and I am so incredibly thankful for every person who has supported me and our teams throughout my coaching career,” VanDerveer said in a statement. “I’ve been spoiled to coach the best and brightest at one of the world’s foremost institutions for nearly four decades.”

And as has been the plan for years, top Cardinal assistant Paye is set to take over the program; Stanford said in a statement that negotiations with Paye are underway. Paye played for VanDerveer from 1991-95 and has coached on her staff for 17 years.

In 2013, Gottlieb was coaching California, which played in the same NCAA Tournament regional as Stanford. When VanDerveer’s top-seeded Cardinal were eliminated by Georgia and Cal had to face the Bulldogs next, VanDerveer reached out to congratulate Gottlieb and offer to help with the game plan.

The second-seeded Golden Bears went on to reach the program’s only Final Four.

After beating Staley and South Carolina 70-32 on Nov. 26, 2010, VanDerveer made her way to the Gamecocks’ locker room in Maples Pavilion for a postgame pep talk.

“For me being on the West Coast I had a front-row seat to all those things,” Gottlieb said by phone Tuesday night, fondly remembering VanDerveer reaching out after Cal beat LSU. “The first call after that win was from Tara and she asked if we wanted the Georgia scout — after her season had just ended. Those are things you don’t forget. It shapes the way you treat opponents, it shapes the way you treat other coaches.”

Stanford, which lost to North Carolina State in a regional semifinal this year after last season’s second-round defeat at home to Mississippi, will play in the Atlantic Coast Conference next season after the Pac-12 imploded — changes that VanDerveer called “sad.”

“From the time I wrote Tara a letter as a senior in college until coaching against her 25 years later, she has always been the model for game-planning, for excellence and for growing our game,” Gottlieb said, “and I think our prevailing feeling should be gratitude for everything she’s done for all of us.”

Turner Thorne, a former Stanford player who later coached Arizona State and is now retired, reached out to VanDerveer immediately after hearing Tuesday’s news.

“She has done it all so just really happy for her to enjoy life after coaching!” Turner Thorne said in a text message to The Associated Press. “When you know you know.”

UConn coach Geno Auriemma called it a “monumental day in women’s basketball, and in basketball in general.”

“When you’ve coached for this extended period of time and you’ve accomplished what Tara’s accomplished, it has an incredible effect on the basketball community,” Auriemma said. “The number of wins, the national championships, the Hall of Fame. She’s had an incredible career and she’s left a great impact on the sport. It’s been exciting to compete against her all these years.”

Coaches who were mentored by VanDerveer said her legacy will be long-lasting.

Tara’s influence is both deep and wide. I went to her very first camp at Stanford as a camper,” UCLA coach Close said in a text to the AP. “I competed against her and worked her camps as a player. And I have now been competing against her and learning from her for many years as a coach. My coaching has been affected on so many levels by Tara’s example and direct mentorship at many crossroads. Congrats on an amazing career Tara. Our game, the Pac-12 Conference, and my coaching is better because of you. Enjoy retirement. You sure have earned it.”

VanDerveer’s last day is scheduled for May 8 — the 39th anniversary of her hiring. She plans to continue working for the athletic department in an advisory role.

Her Stanford teams won NCAA titles in 1990, ’92 and 2021 and reached the Final Four 14 times.

Rosalyn Gold-Onwude played on the 2008 Final Four squad and is thrilled about the strides her sport has made since.

“Whatever helped her decide, she deserves it all,” Gold-Onwude said in a text to the AP. “She steps away knowing her work was part of making all this possible, and she deserves all the rest, she’s earned it! I’m happy for her. Thankful for her.”

VanDerveer took a year away from Stanford to guide the undefeated U.S. women’s Olympic team to a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

“Coupled with my time at Ohio State and Idaho, and as head coach of the United States National Team, it has been an unforgettable ride,” she said. “The joy for me was in the journey of each season, seeing a group of young women work hard for each other and form an unbreakable bond. Winning was a byproduct. I’ve loved the game of basketball since I was a little girl, and it has given me so much throughout my life. I hope I’ve been able to give at least a little bit back.”

For many in women’s basketball, the answer is a resounding yes.

“She’s a legend. The game will miss her,” Smith, the current California coach and former Stanford player and assistant, said in a text to the AP. “I’m grateful for everything Tara has done to contribute to the coach I am today.”