April 11, 2024 

Tara VanDerveer passes the Stanford torch to Kate Paye in emotional press conference

VanDerveer: 'I just felt I’m ready'

STANFORD, Cailf. — The past, the present and the future were in all in the room where Tara VanDerveer discussed her retirement, marking the last chapter of one of the most decorated coaching careers in the history of college sports.

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Her voice cracked at times as she read from prepared remarks, talking about the love of the game that began in third grade, the job her father told her she was crazy to take — at Stanford — and thanking everyone from the donors, to the coaches, staff, players and even the media she crossed paths with along the journey.

She talked about wanting to retire in 2015, telling Stanford athletics benefactor, the late John Arrillaga, about it over dinner after the season. He told her to take the entire summer off and come back refreshed. She would coach another 10 years.

Everything that’s happened over the last 48 years — from the time she took her first job as an assistant coach — to now has been the life the VanDerveer has always wanted.

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“Just walking into Maples for practice and hearing the balls bouncing and the music playing has brought me great joy,” VanDerveer said, in an auditorium filled with her coaches, staff, players, Bay Area media and athletic department administrators. “Coaching has never felt like a j-o-b job.”

But it is time, the Hall of Famer acknowledged, to do other things. To mentor young coaches, read more, perhaps write some children’s books based on the stories of players she’s coached, travel, and bulk up her bridge game to take on her 96-year-old mother Rita. She told her mother after she told her team, and said her mother is excited to get to spend more time with her eldest daughter.

“You realize that this is not a dress rehearsal, this is your real life,” VanDerveer said. “I just felt I’m ready. I never really thought I would be. I kind of felt like maybe I would just keel over on the bench, because I love it. I love it.”

But there will be no keeling. Instead, she will hand the baton officially on May 8 to Kate Paye, the longtime assistant coach and former player, who has been the succession plan at Stanford for years.
Paye sat in the front row of the press conference, riding the waves of emotion with the rest of the room. Athletic director Bernard Muir confirmed that the university is negotiating Paye’s contract and expects the official announcement to happen next week.

“It’s a little bit surreal,” Paye said. “The last 24 hours has been one of those moments in your life where you are so sad, but so excited all at once.”

“I’ve been with Tara for a long time and I know how much she pours into what she does and most seasons, when the season is over, she says ‘That’s it. I can’t do it anymore.’ I used to joke with her that ‘I won’t really believe you until I see the news conference.’ I guess I believe her today.”

Paye, who turned 50 last month and was just named the Division I Assistant Coach of the Year for the second time in the last three years by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, has kept a seat warm on the Stanford bench for 17 years, passing up other overtures to stay with the Cardinal program and buying into a plan that has been years in the making.

Her family is Stanford royalty. Her father was a running back for Stanford in 1961-62. Her brother John was a two-sport athlete, a quarterback for the football team from 1984-87 and a guard on the men’s basketball team.

Despite not being recruited by Stanford, Paye joined VanDerveer’s program as a walk-on, was on the 1992 national championship team, and went on to earn a scholarship the following season, where she was the floor leader that led the Cardinal to the Final Four in 1995. She was a three-time Pac-10 All-Academic selection and two-time team captain.

Paye graduated from Stanford in 1995, spent seven seasons playing professionally in the ABL and WNBA and went to law school in the offseason. She would earn her law degree in 2003, but it turned out practicing law was not the life and career she wanted.

She was being pulled back to basketball, serving as an assistant coach at Pepperdine and San Diego State, and ultimately back to The Farm, where she joined VanDerveer’s staff in 2007 and remained a constant ever since.

“Kate’s ready,” said Heather Owen, Stanford’s senior women’s administrator and Paye’s former teammate at Stanford. “She’s paid her dues. She’s stepped up in all facets of the game, both on and off the court. And we are excited to turn the page with her. It’s going to be fun.”

It is also going to be challenging. Paye’s charge is not only to succeed the winningest coach in the history of the sport, but to maintain the program’s place among the national elite.

She must guide the transition into the ACC, with all of its travel and scheduling challenges. And she must navigate the dynamic environment in which the game is now played. Muir just announced last week the Cardinal’s new NIL collective, which will help. But the biggest challenge may be the transfer portal and Stanford’s limitations to operate within it.

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Currently unable to accept graduate transfers who haven’t already applied in the fall, other solutions, including certificate programs, are being explored in order to help both of Stanford’s basketball programs land players who want to come to Stanford for their final season.

Harder still is the university’s infrequent granting of undergraduate transfers, a figure that has hovered below 2 percent for years.

There’s also a reality that was once unthinkable, that athletes would leave Stanford before their careers are over to pursue a different basketball path. Three players transferred last season, including No. 1 recruit from the previous season, Lauren Betts. And All-American Kiki Iriafen, who joined her Stanford teammates to celebrate VanDerveer, may be looking to play someplace else next season. Iriafen responded “I don’t know” to questions about whether she would return next season or enter the transfer portal.

VanDerveer’s retirement makes room for Paye, who has been leading recruiting efforts for the past eight years, to put a stamp on the program she has essentially devoted her life to.

“Kate is brilliant and hard-working and she is a great communicator,” VanDerveer said. “She loves Stanford and no one will outwork Kate. Kate is going to be awesome.

“When you are a coach, and I think Kate might have woken up feeling a little differently (this morning), you are on 24/7. I’m ready for maybe just the seven, and not the 24.”

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Written by Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.

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