April 10, 2024 

Tara VanDerveer’s sudden retirement from Stanford reverberates

VanDerveer spoke to The Next on Tuesday about why this was the right time

Tara VanDerveer, currently the winningest coach in the history of college basketball, announced her retirement Tuesday night in a stunning announcement that reverberated across the country.

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VanDerveer, 70, closed out a 45-year, Hall of Fame career with 1,216 victories, three NCAA championships, and 14 appearances in the Final Four. Her teams won 27 Pac-12 titles, 15 conference tournament titles and have played in the NCAA Tournament every year since 1988. She was there for all but one of those seasons, when she stepped away for a year to coach the U.S. team to a gold medal in the Atlanta Summer Olympics in 1996.

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Her 38 years at Stanford will define her career — where she has coached the likes of Jennifer Azzi, Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Candice Wiggins and Cameron Brink — but she began at Idaho (1978-80) and Ohio State (1980-85), before she was lured west to coach a moribund Stanford program, where over nearly four decades she turned the Cardinal into a perennial championship contender and standard bearer of excellence.

VanDerveer told the university and her team on Tuesday before making the announcement public.

“I really wanted to put everything into this year’s team,” VanDerveer told The Next Tuesday night. “This is a good transition time. I am sad, but I’m sad for a good reason — because I really love it.”

VanDerveer said that the program’s move to the ACC was “not a determining factor in her decision.

“That was not it at all. I love the Pac-12 and that situation is disappointing, but I would have been excited about the competition,” she told The Next. “I love working at Stanford. And I want to use some of the skills I’ve learned about leadership and teamwork in a different way, like an ambassadorship. I love Stanford and I want to figure out how to serve in a different role.”

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The team’s annual banquet will take place following a press conference at Stanford on Wednesday. How her departure will impact the roster has yet to be determined. There is speculation that VanDerveer’s decision could impact whether All-American Kiki Iriafen decides to return for her senior season.

In her university statement, VanDerveer said that her joy 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.”

According to the university statement, negotiations are underway for Kate Paye, who played under VanDerveer from 1991-95 and has been a member of her staff for the past 17 seasons, to become VanDerveer’s successor. Paye would become the program’s fifth head coach beginning with the 2024-25 season.

Stanford will join the Atlantic Coast Conference next season after the breakup of the Pac-12, the conference she championed for 38 years.

“It’s impossible to put into words what Tara has meant to Pac-12 women’s basketball,” Pac-12 commissioner Teresa Gould said. “She is a selfless leader who always put the best interest of the conference and the game first. I’m so grateful for all that I learned from her.”

Former Arizona State head coach Charli Turner Thorne retired at the end of the 2022 season. Turner Thorne played for VanDerveer at Stanford and coached against her for more than 25 years.

“Tara has done it all, and honestly, when you know, you know,” Turner Thorne told The Next. “The game is in great shape in large part to coaches like Tara.”

USC coach Lindsey Gottlieb wrote letters to dozens of college coaches as a college graduate after the end of her own career at Brown. VanDerveer was the one who responded.

Twenty-five years later, Gottlieb said VanDerveer remains her guidepost.

“Coaching against her has pretty much informed my idea of what it means to be excellent, at consistently winning,” Gottlieb told The Next. “My prevailing emotion should be gratitude. I feel grateful that my career has brought me to the point where I got to witness her greatness all the time.”

UNLV head coach Lindy LaRoque played for VanDerveer from 2008-2012, going to four Final Fours.
“I’m so extremely happy for Tara to do it on her own terms, her way and at her time,” LaRoque told The Next. “She is the greatest and her legacy will continue to live on through all of us that she’s coached.”

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Cal coach Charmin Smith, who played for and coached under VanDerveer, seconded that sentiment.

“I’m happy for her. She’s a legend who has done incredible things for our game and she will be missed, but I’m happy she is choosing the time. I’m grateful to Tara for all she has done to help me be the coach I am today. And I’m proud to have played and worked with Tara.”

Utah coach Lynne Roberts said that it’s impossible to put VanDerveer’s profound influence on the game into a statement.

“It’s hard to imagine our game without her coaching in it,” Roberts told The Next. “I just always assumed she’d out-coach me. She has been the most unbelievable trailblazer for women’s basketball, but also a trusted friend, a fierce ally and someone who always did things the right way.”

UCLA coach Cori Close attended Stanford camps as a teen and like so many – considers VanDerveer an important mentor.

“Tara is a legend on a global level, but she is also so impactful for me on a personal level,” Close told The Next. “She is remarkable in her performance, her mentorship and her example. Our game will be indebted to her for a very long time.”

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Oregon coach Kelly Graves said he had a long conversation with VanDerveer just last week, and that he was both sad and happy about the news.

“She means so much to the game of basketball,” Graves told The Next. “It’s a sad day and I’m happy for her because she has so many things she can do and wants to and now she can do it all.”

Oregon State coach Scott Rueck told The Next, “Tara set the bar and then consistently found ways to raise it. The entire basketball community owes her a debt of gratitude.”

Colorado coach J.R. Payne called VanDerveer “One of one.”

“She has uplifted, motivated and inspired generations of young women, coaches and an entire community of women’s basketball,” Payne told The Next. “There may never be another one like her.”

Stanford All-American Jayne Appel called VanDerveer a “true gem for the game of basketball.”

“Just because she is gone from the sidelines, she will forever have an impact on this game and the players that played for her,” Appel told The Next. “We were lucky to have played for here and to still have her now to rely on.”

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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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