"I’m in a great place, but I haven’t been in that place all the time that I’ve been here." Who knows where Stanford women's basketball would be without her. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
It’s hard to imagine Stanford Women’s Basketball without Tara VanDerveer. She’s been with Stanford since the mid-80s and has seen it rise from a lucky-to-reach-five-wins team that slugged it out in Roble Gym to an "anything-less-than-a-national-championship-is-a-disappointment" national power in front of sellout crowds at Maples Pavilion. She’s coached national championship teams, Final Four teams, numerous Pac-10 championship teams, Olympians, and even the Olympic squad itself. Her players have found success in Europe, the WNBA, and other coaching positions across the country. In short, she’s been one of the most complete and successful college coaches in any sport in the nation. She doesn’t get the sort of recognition nationally that Geno Auriemma or Pat Summitt get, but perhaps that’s because she’s never really had a worthy adversary of a coach here on the west coast (or maybe it’s the infamous west coast bias, who knows). She doesn’t seem to mind that she’s not getting that media attention.
Or does she?
If this story appeared in the New York Daily News they would have gone with a blaring headline, "Stanford Coach Calls Her Players Dumb" with a sub-head, " VanDerveer Disses Brainiac Players on Eve of Big Game".
While the Daily News didn’t sink their teeth into the comments by Toni and Tara, New York Times writer Karen Crouse was in Palo Alto this past weekend and took the time to get to know Tara and the team a little better in the midst of the opening salvos of what Stanford hopes to be a championship run. Among the things Ms. Crouse was able to get out of Tara:
- Tara wouldn’t challenge being called a "Tiger Mother" ("You want to have fun? Try winning. Now that’s fun.")
- Her high school didn’t have a girls’ basketball team
- She likes incorporating games such as "Family Feud" into her game prep
- She worries about being that parent to her players ("How come you got a B? You could have gotten an A.")
- She admitted to looking at other job opportunities other than Stanford on multiple occasions
What? She gave serious thought to leaving Stanford?
VanDerveer made particular reference to two specific times in which she thought that she should be looking at different schools. One was in 1990 after Andy Geiger, the Athletic Director who hired her at Stanford, stepped down to make way for Ted Leland, and the other was in 2006, when Leland moved on to an administrative position at the University of the Pacific and Hennessy hired Bob Bowlsby. Her biggest complaint, according to Crouse, was that she didn’t feel appreciated.
"I think that one of the things we as coaches want is to feel appreciated," she said, "and there were times when I definitely did not feel that."
Interesting. I wonder who or what she’s referring to there. Was she referring to Geiger, the AD who hired her from Ohio State and who had previously worked with her at Ohio State? Was she referring to Bowslby, the AD who she heaped praise about to Crouse later? Did Leland not appreciate her or the program? Were the fans spoiled? Was the school not supportive? Was she not getting press coverage because she wasn’t in a media rich conference such as the Big East or Big Ten?
Whatever the reason, she wasn’t happy at Stanford, she states. It’s a tough pill to swallow for a lot of Stanford fans, especially given her success after the first AD change (two national titles, numerous Final Four appearances, nearly every Pac-10 championship). In any case, we as fans should be grateful for her and what she’s done for Stanford Athletics. She says she’s happy where she’s at now, and really, after being so blunt about considering leaving Stanford in the past, there’s little reason to think she was embellishing or toeing the company line. Besides, who else do you know would don a singlet and wrestle the men’s wrestling coach in a Stanford commercial?