Vanderbilt Athletics Director Candice Lee has done it again. In hiring UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph to replace Stephanie White in leading the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team, she appears to have hit yet another home run while pulling off a major coup.
Ralph, 43, has long been presumed to be UConn’s coach-in-waiting when legendary Coach Geno Auriemma, 67, retires. In other words, Lee managed to hire the coach who was expected to take over for the most dominant coach in women’s basketball history. In doing so, she has suddenly provided newfound buzz to a program and a latent fanbase that was sorely in need of something positive to rally behind.
“Coach Ralph has earned the opportunity to take the reins of our women’s basketball program and transform it into what we all know is possible,” said Lee, in the press release from the university. “She knows what winning looks like, and she has the background and experience—as both a player and a coach—to develop our student-athletes into champions.”
Ralph had a highly decorated career as a player. She was the National High School Player of the Year before attending UConn from 1996 to 2001. In 2000 she led the Huskies to a National Championship (over Tennessee FYI), and was named Most Outstanding Player. She was drafted by the WNBA, but knee injuries kept her from playing professionally.
She began her coaching career as an assistant at Pittsburgh from 2003 before leaving in 2008 to join her former college coach on the UConn bench. For those who don’t follow women’s basketball closely and may not be aware of UConn’s place in the sport, think Alabama in football… on steroids. In her 13 years at UConn, the Huskies have made the Final Four every season (the lone exception being the 2020 pandemic year), winning a ridiculous six National Championships.
“I would like to congratulate Shea on being named the head coach at Vanderbilt University,” Auriemma said in a UConn release. “I know everyone here at UConn is incredibly excited for Shea, It’s an amazing opportunity to be at such a great university in a great city. Shea has had a huge impact on the UConn women’s basketball program, as both a player and a coach. We’re going to miss her tremendously — she brought passion and energy to everything she did in Storrs. But we know she’s going to do amazing things at Vanderbilt and we wish her the best.”
Ralph’s husband, Tom Garrick, was formerly an assistant coach with Vanderbilt women’s basketball under Melanie Balcomb from 2009-2015 and was most recently the head coach of UMass Lowell women’s basketball the past three seasons. Mike DiMauro of the New London (CT) Day has reported he will move to Nashville with Ralph and will likely be on her staff.
People might not believe it, but before UConn came into power in the mid-nineties, Vanderbilt was Tennessee’s biggest rival in women’s basketball. They had many great battles competing for SEC titles and Final Fours. While both programs are obviously no longer what they were, the 90’s into the 2000’s showed what this program can and should be.
“It is with great honor and a full heart that I join Vanderbilt University as the next women’s basketball head coach,” Ralph said. “I have always been motivated and inspired by people who have a passionate pursuit of excellence. Vanderbilt’s rich, storied tradition of excellence speaks for itself, but I believe what sets us apart is the people. I am so excited to work alongside our amazing community in elevating our women’s basketball program back to an elite level. Together we will invest in each other and build a greatness that transcends the game of basketball.”
It won’t be easy, and Ralph will certainly have her work cut out for her. Vanderbilt finished 4-4 before discontinuing the season in January due to roster attrition, which has been even further decimated by transfers in the offseason. Fortunately, we have the right person for the job. All Ralph has done her entire career, as a player and a coach, is win. This is a dormant power with a passionate fanbase, and hopefully this will be the critical first step in re-establishing the Commodores as a legitimate national contender.