‘This is not a dress rehearsal’: Tara VanDerveer on her 46-year coaching career

The women’s basketball landscape experienced a seismic shift last evening — Tara VanDerveer, the winningest all-time college basketball coach, retired as head coach after 38 seasons on the Farm. 

Many Stanford fans suspected that this day was on the horizon, but the unexpected timing caught people off guard. A press release was sent to the media at around 7:30 p.m., when many on the East Coast were likely asleep or not online anymore.

But that was typical of VanDerveer, who has always elected to remain low-key and shine a light on others rather than herself. In her opening statement at the retirement press conference, the 70-year old coach thanked her coaching staff, her players, her coaching peers at other institutions and the media for their support over the years.

“What brings me the most satisfaction is to see the transformation of the young women on our team both on and off the court,” VanDerveer said. “How about Kiki this season!”

VanDerveer’s accomplishments speak for themselves: three national titles, 27 Pac-12 regular-season titles and 15 Pac-12 tournament titles. But the journey to these accomplishments was marked by significant challenges.

“When I met Assistant Dean of Admissions John Bonhomme, he told me straight up, your recruits need to be able to jump through the same academic hoops as other admits,” VanDerveer said. “I remember thinking, John, I need recruits who can put it through the hoop.”

But instead of shying away from Stanford’s strict academic requirements, the long-time Stanford head coach learned to embrace them and the resources Stanford offered.

“My father was right about one thing: The Stanford job involved digging, but instead of a graveyard job, it has been a gold mine job,” VanDerveer said. “Stanford is a beautiful place with incredible people. The strength of Stanford is unwavering commitment to excellence.”

VanDerveer’s impact can also be seen in her coaching tree, as former Stanford players and assistant coaches like Lindy La Rocque and Charmin Smith are currently serving as head coaches at other programs. Now, former player and associate coach Kate Paye will serve as head coach for the Cardinal.

For VanDerveer, the modern landscape in college sports proved demanding, with NIL and the transfer portal placing new pressures on college coaches.

“I feel like basketball coaching has changed a lot over the last 40 years. Now it is an incredibly 24/7 job,” VanDerveer said. “Even if you’re on vacation, I might be water skiing at the lake, but I’m on the phone recruiting.”

While VanDerveer emphasized that Stanford’s move to the ACC did not impact her decision to retire, the increased travel demands may have affected the coach’s health as she aged.

However, the head coach did suggest that her 46-year tenure prevented her from pursuing other interests over the years, such as spending time with family.

“My mom is 97 this year, and I think I just wanted to do things that maybe I just wanted to do in your life,” VanDerveer said. “You realize that this is not a dress rehearsal, this is your real life.” 

While her impact on her immediate network is evident, it is what she has meant to women’s basketball as a sport that will have the most lasting impact. As a child, VanDerveer envisioned the excitement that the women’s game is currently getting. 

“I’d be out shooting by myself and I would be dreaming about what is happening for these women now,” VanDerveer said. “Going to a full stadium, being on television, just all the excitement that is part of the game now.”

As one of the progenitors of women’s basketball, VanDerveer has seen dramatic changes in the landscape of the sport.

“It’s so thrilling to see the support for the women’s game,” VanDerveer told the media. “When I come in this room and look around, there’s more people in this room than there were at our first game.”

With the women’s national championship viewership outpacing its male counterpart and shattering viewership records, VanDerveer can rest assured that she has raised the profile of the sport to new heights.

“I feel like I’m leaving it in a good place.”