Who follows in Debbie Ryan's footsteps at Virginia?

Debbie Ryan will depart the University of Virginia at the end of the year.  Her record is nothing short of amazing.  You can go to her bio over at the University of Virginia that will tell you that.

Her lifetime record is 736-140 and her ACC record is 307-157.  There are very few coaches in any conference and at any level that can approach that.  The best years at Virginia were the Dawn Staley years, where the Cavaliers went to three straight NCAA Final Four appearances and one championship game in 1991, where they lost to the Tennessee Lady Volunteers 70-67 in overtime.

From 1983 to 2000, the Cavaliers were an automatic 20 game winner every year except 1998 - when they won 19 games.  But staring with the 2000-01 season, it seemed like the Cavaliers began to lose their luster.  There were five seasons where Virginia failed to win 20 games, including a 13-16 season in 2003, Ryan's first losing season since 1978. 

Even more inexplicably, the tournament magic disappeared in the 21st century, where aside from a pair of WNIT quarterfinals the Cavaliers couldn't get past the second round of the NCAAs.  In 2008, they lost to interstate rival Old Dominion 88-85 in a second-round overtime game on a 3-pointer with six seconds left.  In 2009, Virginia beat Marist in the first round before losing to California by 26 points in the second round.  Last year, the #5 seeded Cavaliers lost to Wisconsin-Green Bay in the opening round.  Virginia hasn't been past the second round of the NCAA tournament in over a decade.

For a lot of the (nominal) Division I schools, a coach could build his or her reputation on such a record.  But this is the ACC, where a second-round NCAA tournament appearance isn't anything special and people have expected more out of the Cavaliers.  Even so, for Ryan to leave her position before her 60th birthday is out of the ordinary.

This of course will lead to the question:  who will succeed Debbie Ryan at the University of Virginia? 

Here's a short list of candidates.

Dawn Staley:  Really, there no question that Staley has to be at least asked, if nothing else.  Staley, aside from Ryan, is probably the one person most associated with the success of the Cavaliers program, being a Cavalier from 1989 to 1992 and playing on all three Final Four teams.  She's a three-time Olympic Gold Medal winner, led the Charlotte Sting to the WNBA Finals (the franchise's only Finals appearance) and has won over 200 games as a head coach at both Temple and South Carolina.  She's a member of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame as well.

The only question is would Staley leave South Carolina?  My understanding is that Staley's contract with the Gamecocks is five years, but she had had a six-year contract extension at Temple before she walked away to take the South Carolina coaching job.  It would be easier, in my opinion, to recruit at Virginia that it would be at South Carolina.  However, Staley just led South Carolina to its first winning season in five years.  The stickler is whether or not South Carolina would give her an early release.

Kenny Brooks:  Brooks is the head coach at James Madison University.  It's very unlikely that Wendy Larry would ever consider leaving Old Dominion, and among in-state schools this makes him the #1 contender.  In nine years, he's won 20 games each of the past six years, has appeared in the CAA championship game five of the last six years.  As of this writing, he has a 197-85 record, with about 250 Fibonacci Win Points, which would put him ahead of about six other ACC women's basketball coaches in terms of success, probably ahead of even Sue Semrau (Florida State) or Mike Petersen (Wake Forest).

However, Brooks is a JMU alum.  He played basketball for the Dukes.  His only jobs in coaching have been with James Madison.  He's only 42 years old.  As far as he know, James Madison might be his dream job.  Why would he want to leave it?

Tonya Cardoza:  You might have forgotten that Cardoza is also a Virginia alum.  Cardoza was a part of that group of players shared in Virigina's Final Four glories in the early 1990s.  She was a 14-year assistant under Geno Auriemma at UConn.  (Auriemma also served under Ryan as an assistant coach, but I doubt that he's available for the job.) 

Cardoza's big problem is her lack of tenure as a head coach.  She's only been doing this for two years.  Granted, a 48-17 record is pretty good, but think about it:  Cardoza doesn't even have a full recruiting class of her own - she could have inherited Dawn Staley's handiwork.  Would they really give the Cavaliers to Cardoza?

Kevin McGuff:  He runs the best mid-major program in the country right now, and if you're looking for a mid-major coach that's a proven winner, McGuff's your man.  He has the pedigree of being a great coach - time served under Muffet McGraw at Notre Dame helps.  His record at Xavier is 213-72, for 300 Fibonacci Win Points.  Odds are, this will be his second straight 30-win season at Xavier and he is the winningest women's basketball coach in Xavier history.

However, his contract with Xavier runs to 2016-17, and he might like the challenge of moving Xavier someday to the only mid-major program among the top ten women's basketball program in the United States - he stated in a Sports Illustrated article that he wants the program to be like that of Gonzaga, the model mid-major.  Does he really desire to give up Xavier for a job in Virginia?

Jenny Boucek:  Boucek was a Cavalier from 1992 to 1996 and was both an assistant to Anne Donovan and to Brian Agler in both of Seattle's WNBA championships as well as being an assistant for Washington and Miami.  She was also a head coach at the Sacramento Monarchs, with a record of 40-41 in the pros.  She's also very young - if she were to take over at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, she'd be 37 years old.  Many of those who follow women's basketball considered Boucek a good coach and her dismissal from the Monarchs by John Whisenant was something of a head-scratcher.

The problem with Boucek is that she has no experience at the college level, neither as a head coach nor as a recruiter.  Even Itoro Coleman, a first-year head coach at Clemson this season had 11 years of experience as a college assistant.  One again, you'd be entering uncharted territory with a Boucek hire - but if Boucek underperforms, she might be easier to dismiss than a coach with a powerful track record, and she might be cheaper.