Tara VanDerveer's 29-year gap between Stanford titles is longest in any NCAA DI sport

Cassandra Negley
·5 min read

No coach has waited longer to climb that ladder again. 

Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer cut down the nets for a third time on Sunday night at the Alamodome following a 54-53 win over Arizona in the national championship game. The Cardinal were the No. 1 overall seed and didn't play their best game, but survived in the end. 

The championship trophy joins those won in 1990 and 1992, also both under VanDerveer, who closed her 35th season helming the program. The 29-year gap between titles is the longest of any Division I coach in any NCAA sport, per ESPN. And it is yet another note on an incredible career for VanDerveer that experienced additional accolades this season. 

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VanDerveer becomes winningest coach

VanDerveer, 67, passed legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt as the winningest coach in NCAA Division I women's basketball history when the Cardinal defeated Pacific in mid-December. Summitt held the mark of 1,098 wins — at that time the most in women's and men's basketball — upon her retirement after the 2012 season.

With the national championship victory she currently is at 1,125 wins and 255 losses (.815). The team presented her with a "T-Dawg" jacket when she passed the mark, but it didn't make it to San Antonio. She said earlier in the tournament it was too warm of a jacket to take to Texas. 

“This program is what it is because of Tara," sophomore Haley Jones, named the final's most outstanding player, said after the win. "The legacy she has created and just being recruited by her, and be a part of the team and take it a step further and win a national title, after 29 years, it’s a blessing it’s just surreal.”

The squad was forced to take a nine-week road trip when Santa Clara County restricted contact sports because of COVID-19 and rising cases. 

"Life has thrown us curveballs," VanDerveer said this weekend, via ESPN. "We keep swinging and being flexible and doing whatever it takes. Being out of our county, our gym, our locker room, not having fans. I'm their biggest fan."

VanDerveer said ahead of the title game she wondered during that stretch if the team should instead pause its schedule because of the difficulties and challenges. Instead they played the most games of almost any team in the country and built the necessary attributes to win the title in an unprecedented year.  

More coaching honors in 2021

Ahead of the Final Four on Friday, VanDerveer was named the Naismith women's college basketball coach of the year. She also won the honors in 1990 and 2011, the same year she was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The Cardinal won their 24th regular-season Pac-12 title and 14th tournament championship. Stanford was a struggling program before VanDerveer took over the reigns in 1985-86. 

She got her start in coaching as the leader of her sister's team under her parents' suggestion after college. Her teams reached the Final four 10 times in the stretch between championships. She previously coached at Idaho and Ohio State and took a season off in 1995-96 to lead the U.S. national team to the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. 

And, of course, the championship put a bow on her year. VanDerveer is now tied for the third-most championships in women's coaching history. Baylor's Kim Mulkey has also won three. Geno Auriemma has 11 titles with UConn and Summitt won eight with Tennessee. The win also extends the Stanford athletic program's national title streak to 45 years.

Coaching career made meaningful 

Tara VanDerveer cuts down a net.
Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer cuts down the net winning her third national championship. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

VanDerveer is more than a winning coach. She is a fierce advocate for women, from her own players to others and opposing coaches, too. She sent Arizona coach Adia Barnes, making her first NCAA tournament appearance, a text the night before the championship game, per ESPN. She has made it a point to hire female assistants and give them an opportunity they don't always otherwise have. 

And she had glowing things to say about rooting for Barnes and the growth of competition in the Pac-12. She wants to see a deeper sport and yearns for parity, which was seen clear in this 2021 NCAA tournament. 

It's now five consecutive years a different team has won the NCAA women's basketball championship, a mark met only twice in the title's history. Tennessee dominated and then UConn took over until recently. It was also a tournament with plenty of upsets and close games, even if the better seed did get through. Just look at No. 3 Arizona falling one point why of a title against the No. 1 overall seed.

At the start of the tournament she blasted the NCAA for "blatant sexism" for different weight rooms and COVID-19 testing protocols between the women's and men's tournament bubbles. It was the Stanford weight and conditioning coach Ali Kershner who first sent out an Instagram photo that was picked up by other players and coaches. 

Her legacy was set years before the 2021 season. The only thing a championship does is bolster it even further. 

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