Earlier this morning, the University announced that, effective at the end of this season, Virginia women's basketball head coach of 34 years will be stepping down from the helm of the program she brought into relevance. While at Virginia, she took the Cavaliers to three consecutive Final Four appearances from 1990-1992 and a total of 24 NCAA appearances, and no other team in the ACC has been ranked in the AP and USA Today polls more total weeks or consecutive weeks than the Cavaliers. Only two other teams in the country have made more NCAA appearances than her Virginia Cavaliers (Tennessee and Louisiana Tech).
Debbie Ryan won the Naismith National Coach of the Year in 1991, and has been honored as the ACC Coach of the Year seven times. She made Sweet Sixteen appearances for eleven straight years from 1987-1997, has three conference titles, and 11 regular season ACC titles.
In July of 2008, Ryan was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame as a member of its tenth anniversary class.
So it goes without saying, then, that it came as a bit of a surprise to Wahoo Nation to learn the news this morning. Virginia finished the regular season 16-15 (5-9 ACC) and lost 74-68 to Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC Tournament, which could be seen as underachieving. Still, not only were fans surprised, but those around women's basketball expressed the same astonishment. Here's what they had to say:
Connecticut Head Coach and former Virginia assistant coach Geno Auriemma:
"I was as shocked as anyone when I heard the news. Debbie has been one of the most influential people in my life. Without the opportunity that she gave me and the support I received at the University of Virginia, my life would be totally different than it is today. She will be missed by all her players, present and former, but most importantly, the game will miss her."
South Carolina Head Coach and former Virginia guard Dawn Staley:
"Debbie Ryan has been a part of my basketball career for as long as I can remember. As a player, you don't realize how much impact your coach has on those transition years into adulthood. We had great games, teams, and seasons but we also had a great UVA family. Debbie and my teammates are forever a part of my life.As I have grown older and now become a coach myself, I have an even deeper appreciation for Debbie. She is one of the most honest, dependable, and trust-worthy people I know. She continues to be one of my mentors. I stand in line with the rest of our University of Virginia basketball alums who will always cherish and respect Debbie as a coach but more importantly as a person."
Hear a number former Virginia players, as well as Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt, react, after the jump.
Former Virginia guard Dena Evans:
"First of all, my immediate feeling is a sense of sadness that she is not going to be there anymore. I also feel a deep sense of gratitude and I consider it one of the greatest privileges in my entire career to have been able to play for Debbie Ryan at the University of Virginia. There are people that are called legends in the game, but she truly deserves that label. So many of us, including myself, have benefited from everything that she has given to the game. And also to UVa and to every single one of her teams. I feel gratitude to be one of those players. In addition to sadness and gratitude, I feel hopeful for Debbie. I've always felt like she is so much more than just a basketball coach. I think Debbie will have just as much, if not more, to offer the world after basketball than she has while she's been coaching basketball. She's already shown that with what she's been able to contribute to cancer research and how inspiring her own story with cancer has been. I'm actually really excited to see what she does with this next chapter. She is way more than just a basketball coach. To sum all that up, I feel a mixture of sadness that it's over, gratitude that I got to be a part of it, and excitement to see what she does next."
Former Virginia guard Jenny Boucek:
"It's really difficult to put into words what Debbie Ryan has meant to me and what she means to women's basketball. A lot of it is known, and a lot of it is unknown. If I had to say some words about what she has meant to me, and what she continues to mean to me personally, I would say that she is fiercely loyal, deeply caring, unwaveringly integral and altruistically loving. Debbie has been and will be a life coach for all women in sports. She is a fighter for justice and an ambassador for women's equality. I know that she will continue to dedicate her life to those of us involved in women's basketball. She lives for the bigger picture and not for herself."
Former Virginia guard Monica Wright:
"Coach Ryan, to me, is one of the greatest coaches I have ever played for. During my four years at Virginia, she not only taught me how to be a better basketball player, and how to work hard, but she also taught me a lot about how to be a good person and to have integrity in everything that you do. She demands respect as soon as she walks into a room and the way that she's been in her over 30-year career - she has made an impact on so many lives. She is a legendary coach and it was an honor for me to play for a legend and a Hall of Famer. I love her as my own family."
Tennessee Head Coach Pat Summitt:
"Debbie Ryan is a truly remarkable person and someone I consider to be one of my best friends in the coaching profession. Some of the biggest games in both of our careers were played out on the court when the Lady Vols faced the Cavaliers. Over three decades, she has dedicated herself to the task of guiding the University of Virginia women's basketball program at a very high level - 736 wins is a testament to that. More importantly, she has taken great pride in developing and graduating her student-athletes . Along the way, Debbie beat pancreatic cancer with the same positive determination and spirit that she displayed as one of the most successful coaches in the game. I have a tremendous amount of admiration and respect for her both as a person and as a coach of high integrity. The game is going to truly miss her."