"Great Ride" Winding Down For Ryan
by Will Van Wazer
Debbie Ryan said being UVa's women's basketball coach has been a "great ride."
Virginia women's basketball coach Debbie Ryan announced that she was resigning from her position Saturday, bringing an end to a 34-year career that saw the Virginia women's program blossom into a national powerhouse.
Ryan, a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, led the Cavaliers to three straight Final Fours from 1990-1992, and is one of only eight active Division I women's basketball coaches who have reached the 700-win mark.
In a somber press conference Monday afternoon, Ryan expressed gratitude for what she described as a large amount of positive feedback she had received after her announcement, including statements from both Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, a former assistant to Ryan, and Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.
"There's been an avalanche of messages, emails, phone calls," Ryan said. "I have not had a chance to answer even a fraction of them. It's been overwhelming for me the amount of attention that this has attracted. It's made me feel a little uncomfortable at times."
Ryan declined to comment when asked both about how long she had been considering her resignation, and about what had changed from recent years when she talked about wanting to coach "for 10 more years."
While she did not know much about her future plans, Ryan did indicate that she potentially would be open to coaching at another University, a statement that provoked very furious scribbling among the gathered journalists in the John Paul Jones Arena media room, or filling other non-coaching roles. But the coach quickly reiterated her love for Virginia.
"This has been a great ride for me," Ryan said. "It's been really fun. It's been the best years of my life. I love this University. I love people here in this department, and this has been really difficult for me. This University saved my life 10 years ago, and so I have nothing but great things to say about being a small part of such a big thing."
Multiple times during her press conference Ryan alluded to her battle with pancreatic cancer, which she was diagnosed with in 1999. Ryan has been active in the cancer community, mentoring and providing support for people diagnosed with her type of cancer, one of the hardest to treat. Ryan even mentioned a more permanent role might be in her future.
"[UVa's] Emily Couric Cancer Treatment Center is of particular interest to me, but I have not settled on anything yet," Ryan said.
Overall, Ryan was particularly blunt in answering questions on Monday, referring to her retirement as "not a relief," and perhaps indicating the decision was not entirely her own.
Craig Littlepage, speaking after Ryan during Monday's press conference, declined to say anything about candidates to replace the retiring coach, other than to reiterate that he has a "short list" of candidates for every single head coaching job at the University, should whatever current coach decide to resign.
While it is still early in the search, "Wbballhoopsscoop," a Twitter account devoted to covering women's basketball reported that former Virginia guard and current University of South Carolina coach Dawn Staley already has been selected as Ryan's replacement. When contacted by a reporter from The (Charleston, SC) Post and Courier, USC's SID said that "Coach Staley does not wish to comment."
Ryan did express a desire that whatever coach chosen to succeed her be tied to the UVa women's basketball community in some way, something which is easier than you might think given Ryan's extensive coaching tenure and number of successful former players and assistant coaches. In fact, those relationships over the years are what Ryan said she will remember most about coaching at Virginia.
"I'm just proud to be a part of it," Ryan said. "I'm proud that I helped to develop some really, really great young women who have gone on to their own journeys and their own lives and their own successes."