Tara at the Top
STOCKTON, Calif. – Tara VanDerveer earned her 1,099th career victory Tuesday to become the winningest coach in NCAA Division I women's basketball history.
In her 42nd season as a collegiate head coach, VanDerveer passed the late Pat Summitt by guiding the No. 1 Cardinal to a 104-61 nonconference victory over Pacific at a fanless Spanos Center.
The Setsuko Ishiyama Director of Women's Basketball collected the record with typical dignity. At the final horn, she received a pat on the shoulder from team operations director Eileen Roche and the game ball from Pacific coach Bradley Davis before turning toward her celebrating players.
There was a gentle hug from senior guard Kiana Williams, and slapping of hands. Then the team presented VanDerveer on the court with a black snuggie with "T-DAWG," across the back, a nickname bestowed by Williams.
"We try not to call her that too much," Williams said.
Upon reaching the locker room, the players doused a surprised VanDerveer with confetti.
"They really wanted to win for me," VanDerveer said. "I felt it the whole game. I felt it on the bus ride here."
"I want to be a coach that our players want as a coach," VanDerveer said. "I want to be someone that they want to play hard for, that they want to work hard for, and they want to please. That's my goal all the time, to be a great coach for them. The people in the locker room, I'm really excited that they were excited and happy for me. That's who I work for."
Stanford (5-0) broke open a 10-point game when Lexie Hull opened the third quarter with a corner three to launch a massive run that continued the rest of the way. Then, the congratulations began to pour in.
"My phone is blowing up," VanDerveer said "So many people have reached out to me. To connect at a time when you feel really isolated has really meant a lot to me."
VanDerveer previously said savoring a record, as prestigious as it may be, "is not in my nature." Instead, she deflected praise.
"It might be a record that has Tara VanDerveer's name next to it, but it's about the athletic directors who hired me and gave me a chance," she said. "It's been about great assistant coaches and having great players. My dad, who's passed away over 20 years now, told me 'You don't win the Kentucky Derby on donkeys.' We have great players and have always had great players."
At his press conference in advance for his team's game Saturday against UCLA, football coach David Shaw was eager to talk about the longest-tenured coach at Stanford, now in her 35th season.
"Tara VanDerveer is one of the best coaches of any sport on this planet because of her ability to change and to cater to the abilities of her athletes," said Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "And, at the same time, giving them a standard that is necessary for them to grow and reach their peak. It's not just about rolling the balls out there. It's about practice, it's about expectation, it's about heart and humility and, at the same time, excellence.
"Tonight's the culmination of so many things but it's also not the end of it. The Tara that I know cannot wait until the day after tomorrow. Get this thing over with, take all the pats on the back, give another speech, and then let's get back to winning basketball games and see if we can win a national championship, because she has put together a great team."
VanDerveer wore a mask and a black long-sleeved polo shirt during the game, rather than the gray suit that has been a trademark throughout her collegiate head coaching career, which began with her first victory, on Dec. 1, 1978.
On a gloomy Friday, a day after three inches of snow knocked out power in the region, VanDerveer's Idaho Vandals edged Northern Montana, 70-68, in overtime before 300 at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho.
"What I remember is, we were up by three with about 10 seconds left in overtime and I said, 'Look, we've got this game. Just don't foul,' " VanDerveer recalled. "We went out, the girl hit the shot and we fouled her.
"I said, boy, this is going to be hard. This coaching thing is not going to be easy."
As history would have it, the Northern Montana player missed the free throw and Idaho's Karen Sobotta iced it by making a free throw in the final seconds to secure Win No. 1.
"That was a fun game, but I never would have imagined there would be 1,000 more like it," VanDerveer said.
Since then, she coached Stanford to two national championships, 12 NCAA Final Four appearances, 22 Pac-12 regular-season titles, 13 Pac-12 Tournament crowns and 31 trips to the NCAA Tournament. She also guided Idaho to one AIAW Tournament appearance and Ohio State to a pair of NCAA Tournaments while twice being named Big Ten Coach of the Year.
VanDerveer has been named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. She is a four-time national coach of the year and 15-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Her career record is 1,099-253 (.813) and is 947-202 at Stanford.
VanDerveer has guided her players to two Wade Trophy Player of the Year honors, two Naismith Player of the Year honors, 31 first-team All-America honors, 18 Pac-12 Player of the Year awards, 77 first-team All-Pac-12 selections and nearly 40 appointments to USA Basketball teams. She also coached the U.S. to the 1996 Olympic gold medal.
At the press table after the game, VanDerveer watched a video that former player Chiney Ogwumike assembled for this moment. It included well wishes from Condoleezza Rice, Steve Kerr, Billie Jean King, John Elway, Lisa Leslie, and Nneka Ogwumike.
Appropriately, it ended with this from King:
"You are the best Tara!"
Finally, VanDerveer reflected a bit on Summitt.
"I really hope that Pat Summitt is looking down saying, 'Way to go Tara, keep it going.'" VanDerveer said. "She helped me get better as a coach. She was a great mentor and a great friend. I'm sure she would be proud of us."