After 34 years at the helm of the Virginia women's basketball team, Debbie Ryan has decided to step down as head coach of the Cavaliers effective at the conclusion of this season.
"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 ... But I guess there comes a time when everything has to end."
Ryan began her career at Virginia in 1975 and served as an assistant coach for two years before being named head coach in 1977 - only the fifth year of the program's existence.
Throughout her tenure, Ryan posted a 736-323 overall record and was one of only eight active Division I women's basketball coaches to have recorded 700 or more victories. The 2008 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inductee led the Cavaliers to 24 NCAA tournament berths, including three straight appearances in the Final Four between 1990 and 1992.
In 1991, the Ryan-coached Cavaliers made it all the way to the National Championship game - a 70-67 heartbreaking loss in overtime against perennial powerhouse Tennessee. Ryan never returned to the championship game again despite leading Virginia to the tournament 16 more times following the loss.
"I cherish those years, but to be honest with you, I cherish every single year," Ryan said of the Cavaliers' success in the early 1990s. "But at the same time some of my best friends are from those classes. It's not as much about what you achieve as about what you've been able to do with the people that you've achieved it with."
Since its 20-year NCAA Tournament appearance streak ended in 2003, Virginia has earned only four postseason bids under Ryan. This season's Cavaliers are still awaiting their tournament fate after going 16-15 and falling 74-68 against Wake Forest in the opening round of the ACC Tournament March 3. The 2010-11 season marked only the second time in the last seven seasons that Ryan failed to win 20 or more games.
Throughout her career, Ryan tirelessly fought to increase the popularity of the women's game and to foster positive opportunities for female athletes. Ryan was named the Outstanding Woman of the Year by the Virginia Women's Forum in 1991 for her efforts.
Although her contributions to the women's basketball program soon will come to a close, Ryan indicated that she would like to continue impacting the Charlottesville community in other ways. Ryan, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2000, played an integral role in the formation of the Emily Couric Cancer Treatment Center within the University Health System. In conjunction with former Virginia senator Emily Couric - sister of journalist Katie Couric - Ryan helped to begin a fund which assists families of cancer patients who are treated at the center.
"In the immediate future I will remain in Charlottesville and choose an area of the University that fits my skills," Ryan said in a press release Saturday. "The Emily Couric Cancer Treatment Center is of particular interest to me, but I have not settled on anything yet."
Ryan noted that even if she remains in Charlottesville, she would not be involved in Athletic Director Craig Littlepage's nation-wide search for Ryan's replacement on the bench.
"I don't think I'll be hovering," Ryan said. "I don't think that'll be a good thing for whoever comes in. [But] I think whoever comes in will be connected to me in some way or another."
Littlepage did not provide a time table regarding how long the search will take, nor did he comment on potential successors to Ryan.
"I can't say a person or two who might be a potential target," Littlepage said. "It's really a function of when people are available and willing to talk. We're going to have to find a way to move on now"