Tara VanDerveer Q & A, Part V

This may be the off-season but fans can stay tuned in to Stanford basketball through TheBootleg.com's ongoing Q & A series with Head Coach Tara VanDerveer. In Part V, VanDerveer shares some thoughts on coaching, including what it takes to be a good head coach and what to make of the upheaval in the Pac-10.

Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. She has won over 750 games as a head coach. For Part V of TheBootleg.com's Q & A series with VanDerveer, we thought we might ask her a few questions about coaching…

What does it take to be a good head coach? What qualities are essential?

Knowledge of the game is obviously key - the more you know, the more there is to know. You need passion for the game, organizational skills, and people skills. There is a lot of delegating. You work with a lot of different people in different roles: assistants, trainers, managers, administrators, and officials.

I think being really determined helps. You have to put a lot of time in. You really have to love basketball. I mean you put so much time into watching basketball, teaching basketball. I think it's helpful to be creative, to have new ideas, and to be flexible since you work with different groups, different teams every year. Stamina is big. You work hard every day, whether it's recruiting, whether it's watching video. You need to be open to a lot of new ideas all the time, ready to learn new things.

There is a lot to it. People say, oh you just coach, like you don't teach anything else or do anything else, but there is more to it. It's like running a business. You have basketball camp. You are managing a lot of different people. In our office we have a Director of Basketball Operations, a trainer, managers, an administrative assistant. There is a whole other side to things than what people think of as coaching. I work with the Ticket Office and with Marketing and Promotions. There is a lot of variety in my job every day. There is just a lot of stuff that comes across my desk: letters, e-mails, or phones calls. I'm managing a lot of stuff all the time. It is important to have really good help, and I have great help.

How do you choose assistants and how do you delegate responsibilities?

There are certain things that everyone has to do. So when I'm hiring an assistant I know that there are certain things that everyone has to be good at. The way we delegate in our office is everyone works on recruiting and everyone works on practice scheduling, but Bobbie (Kelsey) and Kate (Paye) do all of the scouting of teams. Amy (Tucker) doesn't scout any teams. Amy does all the admissions stuff, which is a whole job and a half, and all the NCAA compliance. So there is delegating within our office. Eileen (Roche, the Director of Basketball Operations) works with the Fast Break Club (booster group), as does Amy, but Eileen basically oversees a lot of the administrative day-to-day things. She's an Assistant Athletic Director and she does scheduling, which is a massive job. I work on that sometimes with Eileen. So I kind of work with all of the assistant coaches on all of the projects and then they have some specific things that they are in charge of.

You now have several former players coaching on the collegiate level including the two currently with Stanford, and some former assistants have moved on to become head coaches. How do you feel about your growing "coaching tree?" What do assistants need to learn or change to step up to a head-coaching job?

It's like being on a tandem bicycle on the back where you're just pedaling to going to the front where you have to pedal and steer. It's really different. That sixteen inches, or whatever, from one seat to the other (on the bench) is really, really different. Being decisive, being able to make decisions, is key. You make the final decision on who you are recruiting, what your schedule is, whether you press, whether you don't, who you put in the games. I'm really proud of the number of women that I've worked with either as players or assistant coaches that have gone on to become coaches in women's basketball and that they do such great jobs.

Do you have any thoughts on all the recent coaching changes in the Pac-10, which now has a few established coaches, a group of young coaches in their first jobs, and a couple of experienced NBA/WNBA coaches?

It is interesting. It's tough. When I look at each of the nine chairs so to speak, when I look at who used to coach at Cal, for instance, I've seen Gooch (Foster) at Cal, Marianne Stanley at Cal, Caren Horstmeyer at Cal, and now Joanne (Boyle). So basically I've seen between maybe four and seven or eight people in some of these different jobs. It's hard and it's sad to see people fired or not retained. Obviously you want other Pac-10 coaches to do well, but it is very competitive and there is only one team that's going to win and five teams that can say they finished in the top half. Whoever is there, when we're playing them, we just want to play well.

One of the things about the Pac-10 is that there is a lot of variety in terms of style of play. It gets you ready for anything you play against. We play against all kinds of different things, which when I first came here I was like, wow! You're playing against a half-court trap or a full-court or maybe a box-and-one or a triangle-and-two, and all the different offenses. I'm excited to see what the new coaches bring in every year. Our goal is always to win it. That is never going to change.

If you were an athletic director looking to hire a head coach, what experience and qualities would you seek?

If I were an athletic director I'd look at track record, like when I'm hiring an assistant. I'd look for someone that has been successful and that maybe would already have a leg up on the competition, someone that in some ways [opponents] would say uh oh, they've hired this person.

When I look at who is doing well in the Pac-10, like this past year when we were first, then Cal and Arizona State, you've got myself, Joanne (Boyle) and Charli (Turner-Thorne), who all coached at smaller schools before coming to the Pac-10. I was at Idaho and then at Ohio State, which is not small. Joanne was at Richmond. Charli had experience coaching at Northern Arizona. I think that's the route I would recommend to a young coach. I would want someone to make mistakes where they're not under a microscope. I would not have wanted my first job as a head coach to be a big one. For me, I was really excited to have my first be at Idaho. You're going to make a lot of mistakes. You're making them there so they're not going to be fatal mistakes. There were a lot of things that I learned at Idaho that helped me at Ohio State.

What mistakes does a newly minted head coach tend to make?

I think there is a combination of things. Experience is a great teacher. Personnel mistakes maybe and recruiting mistakes. Dealing with players and understanding how to best design an offense to fit a certain person. Interactions with staff and administrators. When you're young you're often a little hotheaded. You're anxious and you feel pressure. As you have more experience then I think you've been there before so it's easier. You're calmer so you can make more levelheaded decisions. The whole thing about being a head coach is making decisions. Experience helps you make good decisions. Perspective helps you make good decisions.

To be continued in Part VI…


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