The University of Virginia formally introduced Tina Thompson as the new head coach of the Women’s Basketball team on Wednesday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena. Athletic Director Carla Williams kicked off the press conference thanking influential members of the coaching search.
“I want to acknowledge Debbie because we were able to be very selective in this search because Debbie Ryan built a championship program here,” Williams said, continuing, “...the reputation of this program stood the test of time, and that was very helpful for us in attracting Tina to this program, so thank you, Debbie, and thank you for your counsel, too, throughout the process.”
Dr. Williams went on to thank Virginia’s former coach, Joanne Boyle, for her contributions to the program and wished her well in her future endeavors before listing the qualities she looked for in a new coach.
Williams listed an exhaustive, but fair list in what she was looking for in a person to replace Boyle, saying she desired:
“A person of high character that embodies the values of the University of Virginia; a person who values higher education and the lifelong benefits of learning; someone who could connect with our players and create an environment where the players wanted to exceed expectations in the classroom, on the court, and in life; someone with great talent and the ability to attract great talent; a coach who knows firsthand what it takes to win championships; a coach that cares about the players as people, above all else; a teacher who is willing to learn, willing to share, and eager to impart wisdom on young people.”
“This is a wonderful opportunity,” Thompson said with a broad smile as she opened her remarks. “The going theme has been that this is my first experience, and my thought is what a great first. I am excited. It’s not often that someone with my experience gets to be a part of a program so prestigious, so committed to excellence and young people, not just academically but also athletically. That is absolutely who I am and what I embody.”
Coach Thompson said her first reaction to the news of Virginia job opening up was like what she assumed everyone felt: “That is a good job. That’s a good job.”
Although Thompson only has three years coaching experience - as an assistant at Texas - she thinks that she meshed well with Dr. Williams. “I am very out of the box. I think that Ms. Carla [Williams] and I get along very well because she’s very out of the box, too, and she’s not afraid of making the decision that she thinks is best and not going with the comfortable one that everyone else might think is best.”
When asked about her process of recruiting players, Thompson had a simple but strong answer. “I tapped into a young Tina Thompson,” she said before elaborating on the importance of honesty along the recruiting trail with both players and their families. “I looked for honesty,” she said. “I mean, the recruiting process is such a short process, and you don’t get a lot of time. It’s not as intimate as you would want it to be. So the things that kind of triggered me or just stuck with me in the recruiting process was just the honesty, just being honest with me.”
Thompson’s repeated referral to her new team as “our girls” showed her immediate connection with the program (as did her navy dress complemented by orange bracelet and manicure), and she was familiar with now third-year center Felicia Aiyeotan through her She Got Game Classic in Washington, DC. Aiyeotan, at 6-9, earned high praise from her new coach for her willingness to work hard and learn.
Dyllan, her 12 year old son, and her mother, Lady, joined Thompson at the press conference. Dyllan has been known to offer his advice to his mother on his team, and he’s happy with the players she is inheriting. “My son has already given me a rundown on our team because he’s been busy on YouTube, so he has reassured me that we’re in a good place.”
Shortly after being announced as the head coach, Thompson said she received congratulatory communications from just about everyone:
“I think the thing that -- for me that stood out the most, two of the people that reached out to me immediately were Coach Ryan and Coach Boyle. I thought that that was first class, like, all the way. I think neither one of them had to do that. I knew that in that moment that I was coming to a special place, and immediately after that, Coach Bennett sent me a message, a couple messages, and then the rest of the staff here, like the entire athletic department, each coach, in season, right now, they’re busy and they took the time to send me a message of congratulations, and we’re here if you need us, any kind of support.”
Coach Thompson managed to sum it all up pretty succinctly. “I absolutely, totally made the best decision ever, because not often do you get that type of support.”
Luckily for Virginia fans, Thompson plans on making defense a major focus for her teams, and appreciates what Coach Bennett has done with the men’s program. “I love the fact that his program is cheered for the toughest parts of basketball, that in watching them play, the crowd gets excited about the possibilities of a shot-clock violation. That is just not normal. It’s not,” Thompson said to laughs in the press room. “That is an old-school mentality, and I’m old-school, and I love that about his program.”
It’s time to get excited about Coach Thompson and the Virginia women’s basketball program, if you weren’t already. The Thompson Era in Charlottesville starts now.
You can watch the full press conference here: