Ralph says leaving UConn not easy, but Vandy a ‘no brainer’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Shea Ralph said the possibilities coaching Vanderbilt offered were too good to pass up, though leaving UConn was very tough after investing in the Huskies as both a player and assistant coach for 13 seasons.

The chance to turn Vanderbilt back into a women’s basketball power was a “no brainer.”

“I’m not really looking at it as a rebuild, more like a revitalization … we’ve seen that it can be done here,” Ralph said Wednesday. “And that’s I’m coming in here thinking that this is going to get done. And I’m just excited to be part of it, because I think it’s such an amazing opportunity.”

Vanderbilt introduced Ralph during a virtual news conference Wednesday, a day after hiring her as the new coach for a program that has 26 NCAA Tournament berths, 15 trips to the Sweet 16, five Elite Eights and a Final Four in 1993. But the Commodores haven’t made the tournament since 2014.

Ralph’s husband, UMass Lowell coach Tom Garrick, was an assistant at Vanderbilt in 2009 before being promoted to associate head coach in 2013. Asked if Garrick will be on her coaching staff, Ralph said only that she has a short list.

Garrick’s experience at Vanderbilt gave him firsthand knowledge of what is possible at the only private university in the Southeastern Conference. When Ralph asked him for his opinion on the job offer, his answer was short.

“He said two words, ‘No brainer,’” Ralph said.

Ralph, who graduated from Connecticut in 2001, was captain of the Huskies’ 2000 national championship team and was named MVP of that Final Four. She also was an All-American and the 2000 Big East Player of the Year. She said she learned at UConn what it takes to build and sustain an elite program.

But she won’t be Geno Auriemma, her coach and boss for so long at UConn. Ralph joked she probably won’t bring as many technical fouls as Auriemma.

“I have just a different style in general, but that’s not better or worse, good or bad,” Ralph said. “I think I’m just a little bit different than Coach, but obviously he’s taught me an incredible amount. I wouldn’t be able to be here and be in the position I am to pass that along to our young women if it weren’t for him.”

Athletic director Candice Lee said as a former women’s basketball player at Vanderbilt she understands this opportunity and potential in a personal way. She agrees with all the former Vanderbilt players that this program can win championships.

“This is her first head coaching job, but few people have more experience competing for championships,” Lee said.

Even though Ralph was seen as someone who wouldn’t leave UConn, that didn’t stop Lee from asking. Lee said Ralph earned this chance with her drive to win, passion for players and vision for the program. Auriemma told Lee that Ralph is relentless in everything she does.

“She knows what winning looks like. She’s not afraid of seizing this opportunity” Lee said. “She and we see what this program is today, and what it can and what it will be. You can’t dispute Shay’s pedigree coming from UConn, but she’s not sitting here today just because of pedigree.”

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