Stanford’s Tara Vanderveer Now Winningest Coach in Major College Basketball
STANFORD, Calif. — Tara VanDerveer’s face shined in every corner of Maples Pavilion with that very message. Yes, the Stanford Hall of Famer now stands atop major college basketball as the winningest coach of all time.
“Today was just so wonderful,” VanDerveer said. Even though she had to text her 96-year-old mother, Rita, they’d need to cancel a scheduled bridge game because of all the postgame festivities to celebrate her. “It is a big number and I’m very appreciative of the great players I’ve coached and the great places I’ve been and the attention it’s brought to women’s basketball.”
Just as those who love her so hoped it would turn out, VanDerveer passed former Duke and Army coach Mike Krzyzewski with her 1,203rd career victory at home in Maples when No. 8 Stanford beat Oregon State, 65-56.
And it never fails that VanDerveer always takes a minute to thank everybody for coming to the game, and that includes offering her immense gratitude to the Stanford band. On Sunday, moments after her latest remarkable milestone in a career filled with them, she politely asked the band to stop playing. VanDerveer took the microphone and began with her words of appreciation once more.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she told the crowd. “I’m not usually lost for words but it’s pretty impressive, all these people here, all the former players coming back.”
A head coach since age 24, VanDerveer celebrated with thousands of supporters and a couple dozen former players on hand to cheer her on for yet another triumph in a decorated 45-year career featuring so many memorable accomplishments.
And for a nearly full arena, this was also a chance for fans to show their love to the Hall of Fame coach who has been shining her light on women’s basketball for 4 1/2 decades.
“Tara! Tara!” they yelled in the closing seconds before the celebration began.
“This is a tremendous accomplishment for Tara VanDerveer, who is already one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of basketball,” Krzyzewski said in a statement. “This is yet another milestone to add to an amazing legacy. More important than all the astounding numbers and career accomplishments, she’s positively impacted countless lives as a coach and a mentor. Tara remains a true guardian of our sport.”
A video tribute with messages from everyone from Billie Jean King to Steve Kerr, Dawn Staley and Coach K himself showed on the big screen.
It was tense at times, with VanDerveer standing with arms crossed and pacing the sideline as Kiki Iriafen and her supporting cast made the big plays when it mattered most — including Iriafen’s first 3-pointers. Stanford was missing All-American Cameron Brink because of a lower left leg injury suffered in Friday’s win over Oregon.
“I want to bring attention to the beauty of women’s basketball and the wonderfulness of these players that work so hard,” VanDerveer said. “I’m so jealous because I never got to do what they get to do and I’m able to watch a little girl’s dream play out through them.”
Iriafen contributed a career-high 36 points on 16-for-26 shooting and 11 rebounds and Talana Lepolo 14 points and six assists for the Cardinal (17-2, 6-1 Pac-12). The game drew a near-capacity crowd of 7,022 at Maples Pavilion, which holds 7,233.
VanDerveer improved to 1,203-267 overall and 1,051-216 over 38 seasons at Stanford. A 17-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year with five national Coach of the Year honors, VanDerveer has captured three NCAA titles with Stanford — 1990, ’92 and 2021 — and coached the 1996 U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal at the Atlanta Games during a year away from Stanford.
Stanford led 28-22 at the break having shot just 12 of 34 but was willed in the second half as former star players such as Jennifer Azzi, Chiney Ogwumike, Ros Gold-Onwude and Jayne Appel-Marinelli were among those in attendance along with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice supporting the beloved coach.
“What does it mean to me? It means everything. It’s like your family member getting married or someone had a baby, Coach is making history, we all come back and we celebrate,” Ogwumike said. “It’s just a part of our life now. Showing up for Tara is the same way you show up for a sister, an aunt, a brother. She’s family to all of us.”
VanDerveer received warm ovations at every chance, from the moment she walked out onto the court during pregame warmups and again for introductions. She credited the Beavers for their grace in offering congratulations in the hand-shake line after the final buzzer.
Oregon State coach Scott Rueck credits VanDerveer for elevating the entire conference over the decades.
“The most remarkable thing about her is she’s done it for so long and she’s remained at such a high level of excellence,” Rueck said. “And that’s her preparation, her attention to detail is the separator.”
Azzi offered a sentiment that hundreds of other former VanDerveer players would certainly share: “I got to play for the greatest coach of all-time.”