NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Geno Auriemma, Tara VanDerveer, Muffet McGraw and Brenda Frese all have won national championships, using their own styles to make the most out of their teams.
Now, they all hope they can coax two more victories to win another title.
“These four are the gold standard for coaches,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “They are different in personality, but have the common ground of success.”
Both Auriemma and VanDerveer are enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The pair, as well as McGraw, also have been inducted into the women’s basketball Hall of Fame.
All four have been honored as the AP Coach of the Year.
This year’s Final Four is one of the rare times that all four coaches have won national championships.
Auriemma leads the way with eight titles and can break a tie with Pat Summitt for most if the Huskies can repeat as champions. Despite winning 44 straight games by mostly astronomical margins, Auriemma never lets his Huskies become too full of themselves.
“It’s hard for us to get cocky when you have a coach like him who kind of lets you know your weaknesses and makes sure you work on them all the time,” UConn senior guard Bria Hartley said. “He’s not going to let a day go by where you act cocky. He makes sure you really stay kind of hungry and wanting to get better rather than getting complacent.”
VanDerveer takes a more cerebral approach with her team. She’s won two national championships, been to the Final Four in six of the past seven years and won the 900th game of her career early this season.
“Tara teaches you how to watch film, to make sure you pay attention to details,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “To be disciplined in what you’re doing. She taught me how to do that.”
McGraw, who a national championship in 2001, has guided the Irish to four straight Final Fours. She’s led the team to unprecedented heights this season with a 36-0 record – the first undefeated season in school history.
Now, she’ll have to rally her team after losing senior leader Natalie Achonwa to a torn ACL in the regional final game.
“She’s so intense and on us,” Irish senior Kayla McBride said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing she wants us to do the same thing against every single team.”
McBride said that even when the team plays board games or word games against each other, McGraw has that competitive fire.
“She’s just super competitive,” McBride said. “She doesn’t like to lose. She doesn’t like the thought of losing. I think coach is the reason we’re so competitive, we’re so driven.”
Frese tends to be a player’s coach. She played a practical joke on star Alyssa Thomas before telling her that they were going to put her number in the arena’s rafters. Thomas paid her back by filling Frese’s office with balloons.
“She has such a passion and really relates well with her team,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said.