The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The making of a legend: Tara VanDerveer’s Idaho origins

The winningest coach in college basketball history won first 42 games with Idaho
Stanford+head+coach+Tara+VanDerveer+during+a+game+between+Stanford+and+WSU+womens+basketball%2C+Feb.+11%2C+in+Pullman%2C+Wash.
BRANDON WILLMAN
Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer during a game between Stanford and WSU women’s basketball, Feb. 11, in Pullman, Wash.

On Dec. 1, 1978, the Idaho women’s basketball team battled Northern Montana in a challenging season opener. After a back-and-forth second half, the Vandals snagged a 70-68 overtime victory with just thirteen seconds left on the clock. 

For Idaho’s 25-year-old rookie coach, this victory marked the beginning of what would one day become a historic record. That coach? None other than the winningest coach in college basketball history: Tara VanDerveer.

Tara VanDerveer coached Idaho women’s basketball from 1978–79. Courtesy University of Idaho
Tara VanDerveer got her first 42 career wins at Idaho. Courtesy University of Idaho

Since that first fateful win, VanDerveer has picked up 1,207 more and cemented herself as a legend and pioneer in the game of basketball. Her 1,208 wins and counting are the most of any head coach in the history of college basketball (men’s or women’s). Her Jan. 21 win over Oregon State (career win No. 1,203) surpassed former Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski for the most head coach college basketball wins of all time.

In addition to numerous accolades spanning the entirety of her collegiate coaching career, she led the women’s national team to gold in the ‘96 Atlanta Olympics.

But before the world knew her name, VanDerveer spent two years on the Palouse, serving as the Idaho women’s head coach between 1978—80.

Hardly older than her players, VanDeveer arrived in Moscow having just obtained a master’s in sports administration from Ohio State. In her two-season tenure, VanDerveer led the Vandals to a 42-14 record. The Vandals made an appearance in the AIAW tournament — which would go on to become the NCAA tournament some years following Title IX — in 1980. 

Tara VanDerveer’s Idaho women’s basketball team in the late 1970s. Courtesy University of Idaho

VanDerveer said that Idaho was a great place for her to start coaching.

“I loved my time at Idaho. I cried leaving. It was an awesome opportunity for me, and I’m very thankful I had it,” VanDerveer said.

While leading the Vandals, VanDerveer was not able to conquer the Cougs. In her first matchup against WSU in ‘78, WSU ran away from Idaho 69-49.

It was no matter, though. VanDerveer has not lost to WSU since 1985 when she took the reins at Stanford. As of Sunday, when the two teams met again in Beasley Coliseum, Stanford holds a 74-0 record over WSU.

Even now, over 40 years later, VanDerveer said she still feels a sense of nostalgia when she returns to the Palouse.

“When we’re flying [in], sometimes I see the Kibbie Dome,” she said.

Today, VanDerveer’s impact on Palouse basketball is far from over. WSU head coach Kamie Ethridge said that VanDerveer is proud of the progress of Cougar women’s basketball, providing her with advice and positive feedback.

“Everybody wants their team to win, but she really cares about women’s basketball and she cares about the success of other coaches,” Ethridge said.

Ethridge described VanDerveer as having a “giving spirit.”

“What she’s done for the game is phenomenal… Just the grind of learning the game the way she did at the University of Indiana and going to Bobby Knight’s practices and having the courage to ask him if she could just be there.” Ethridge said. 

Knight, a Hoosiers legend, was one of the strongest influences in VanDerveer’s early coaching style which she brought to Idaho.

Idaho’s student publication, The Argonaut, highlighted the impact of Knight’s work on VanDerveer in 1978.

“Her defensive strategies are based on type of defense used at the University of Indiana under the legendary Bobby Knight, while her offensive patterns are inspired by former Ohio State coach Fred Taylor,” The Argonaut reported.

Sue Durrant, WSU Athletics Hall of Famer and force within the 1987 Blaire. vs. Washington State University equity lawsuit served as head coach of the WSU women’s basketball team during Idaho’s VanDerveer era. Durrant was familiar with VanDerveer prior to her arrival at Idaho, having visited with her at Ohio State.

“She has always been very good at remembering the people who gave her opportunities,” Durrant said.

VanDerveer said that she’s been fortunate to work for great schools with administrations that supported her.

“I worked for Kathy Clark at Idaho,” VanDerveer said. “She was fabulous. She was the first person to hire me, so I’m always indebted to that, to have that chance.”

Clark, former Senior Associate Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator remains a pioneer for women’s athletics at Idaho. Her choice to take on VanDerveer helped lay the foundation for the program.

“Having an impressive background of study, of being a student of basketball, of taking every opportunity as a player and as a college student to commit herself to the game and improving her personal skills,” Clark said to Sports Illustrated.

“She was so focused on being a good basketball coach and devoting herself to basketball,” Clark said.

VanDerveer’s diligence and love for the game has always been palpable. She has drawn influence from each institution throughout her career. Her early years at Idaho can be regarded as history, marking the beginning of a legendary era. VanDerveer’s inspirations as a young woman have transformed her into the coach she is today.

“That’s what she’s always wanted to do, was coach basketball,” Durrant said.

“She’s not just an icon,” Ethridge said. “She literally is a living breathing role model and mentor and peer, and wants what’s good for women’s basketball.”

The first 42 of VanDerveer’s 1,208 wins were accounted for with Idaho. She puts it simply:

“You just play one game at a time,” VanDerveer said. “And they kind of added up.”

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About the Contributors
KEDZIE MOE, Evergreen Sports Reporter
Kedzie is a junior PR major from Seattle, Washington. She began writing in the sports section in the fall of 2023 and working as a copy editor in the spring of 2024. She is interested in the intersection of sports, culture and politics.
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2024 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.