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  • Writer's pictureKate Stiger

The Legacy of the Greatest College Basketball Coach

Getting to the mountaintop is no easy feat, and it takes passion, consistency, and dedication. Tara Vanderveer and the teams she has coached embody all those qualities. Now, she finds herself alone at the top, but she has had incredible people with her on every step of her journey. 

On Sunday, January 21, Vanderveer won game number 1,203 of her head coaching career, passing the legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski as the winningest coach in college basketball history. The win was in front of a packed crowd inside Maples Pavilion, where Vanderveer was showered with confetti and love from her team, alumni, and fans. 

Vanderveer’s head coaching journey began 46 years ago and she has been a winner every step of the way. Let’s take a look down memory lane at her journey and legacy.

Early Coaching Days

After attending and playing basketball at Indiana University, Vanderveer had intended to attend law school. Instead, she found herself at Ohio State University as an assistant coach and head coach for the junior varsity squad. 

After two years of gaining experience as a coach and being a part of a successful program in Columbus, Vanderveer had earned a master's degree and decided it was time for a new challenge - becoming a head coach.

First Stop: Moscow, Idaho

Vanderveer accepted her first head coaching job in 1978 and made her way to the small town of Moscow, home of the University of Idaho Vandals. The Vandals were in just their fifth year as a team and had only one winning season and were seeking a coach to help the team get some momentum. Vanderveer did just that, and in her two seasons led the program to 17-8 and 25-6 records.

Back to Columbus

With two successful seasons at Idaho under her belt, Vanderveer accepted the head coaching position at Ohio State. With her knowledge of the program and the experience she gained as a head coach, Vanderveer led the team as they entered into the Big 10 conference. 

In her five seasons as the head coach of the Buckeyes, she went 110-37 overall and 53-4 in four seasons in the Big 10. By 1985, her team had reached No. 7 in the rankings and played their way to a spot in the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament.

Stanford Era Begins

Five seasons of winning at Ohio State put Vanderveer’s coaching talent on the map. She was recruited to be the head coach at Stanford, but the winning would not come easily and many people close to her questioned her decision to go to a struggling program. Stanford was not the program people know today, and Vanderveer had her work cut out for her to turn the program around. In her first two seasons, the team went 13-15 and 14-14, which are still Vanderveer’s only non-winning seasons.

Rise To The Top

In the 1978-88 season, Stanford catapulted to success with a 27-5 record and reached the NCAA tournament Sweet 16. Things were up from there for the Cardinal as Vanderveer was able to develop the program and recruit players who would buy into her coaching style and philosophy. 

Stanford’s first championship came in 1990 after losing only one game during the season. This was just the beginning, as the Cardinal have appeared in every NCAA tournament since and won the championship again in 1992 and 2021. In addition to the three championships, they have reached the Final Four 15 times.

Paving The Coaching Path

In addition to coaching successful teams and having numerous players play in professional leagues, Vanderveer has created coaching opportunities for women on her staff and given many of them the tools to become head coaches at other programs. 

So far, twelve women, who were former players or assistant coaches, have gone on to be head coaches of a college program. A number of her assistants have gone on to other roles in basketball and sports as well. 

While developing players during their four years is important, Vanderveer also understands the role of developing women once they are done with their playing careers and gives women opportunities to advance their careers in sports. This is why as a head coach, Vanderveer only hires women as her assistant coaches and is known to give opportunities on her staff to her former players.

Creating A Sisterhood

Even with all of the accolades and wins Vanderveer has accumulated, the coach is most proud of the bond and sisterhood that she has established with her players and staff. This was evident at her record-breaking game, as many former players made the trip to Palo Alto to celebrate the greatest coach in college basketball. After the game, Ros Gold-Onwude, Jennifer Azzi, and Chiney Ogwumike, all former players, sat on a stage at center court to talk about Vanderveer’s legacy and share stories that they will remember forever.

Only time will tell if or for how long Vanderveer’s name remains at the top of the record books, but for now, the legendary coach is getting her well-deserved praise and will carry on her winning ways for the remainder of the season and her career.


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