Hall of Famer Debbie Ryan: Virginia got it right with Coach Mox
Among those in attendance Thursday when Amaka Agugua-Hamilton was introduced as the next head coach of the UVA women’s basketball program was legendary former Virginia’s women coach Debbie Ryan.
The fact that Ryan, who had been noticeably absent in recent years at Virginia home games, was present for the event clearly displayed her thoughts about the new hire.
After the introduction ceremony, the seven-time ACC Coach of the Year winner and 2008 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, spoke to a small group of writers. Ryan thinks the fit between Agugua-Hamilton and the university is great, and the fit with the community is perfect.
“Her teams play extremely hard,” Ryan said. “She’s a good floor coach, she knows when to call timeouts, when not to call timeouts. She provides a lot of independence to her players, yet they know that with freedom comes responsibility, and that’s one of the key things in being a great coach. I think she’s going to do extremely well here,” said Ryan.
“This community is so hungry for this program to do well and to represent itself well,” Ryan said.
If anyone knows what the connection between the community and Virginia women’s basketball is, it’s Debbie Ryan, who was on the sidelines for what will forever be known as “Hot Dog Night,” a 1986 promotion where fans not only were admitted free, but they also got a free hot dog and soda. The game had an announced attendance of 11,174 (I was there, it was more like 15,000). University Hall’s official capacity was just over 9,000.
Of the 11,000 or more in attendance was the local fire marshal, and he didn’t like what he saw. After citing the University for a violation, the capacity of U-Hall was reduced to 8,500 thereafter.
Ryan understands that women’s basketball is significantly more dependent on the surrounding communities than the men’s program.
“I think this community is so hungry for this program to do well and to represent itself well, “Ryan said. “The community won’t take long to come back, we have to encourage that,” added Ryan.
Still residing in the Charlottesville area, Ryan is not only willing, but eager, to be part of getting the fans back to the games.
“It’s going to be hard work, believe me, it’s going to be hard, but there is no reason with these facilities, this building, which I helped to build, going to meetings, planning meetings, heck, I even attended a few water waste meetings, there’s no reason the fans won’t come back.”
And how does that process begin? I asked coach Ryan.
“Well, this is a start (hiring Aguuga-Hamilton), but the building needs people to energize the program. The fans want to know what you’re doing, you must get out in the community, you must love them, and if you do, they will love you back, there’s no question about that,” stated Ryan.
After the dismissal of former coach Tina Thompson, there was speculation that Virginia may look from within the alumni base for the next coach. Names like Tammy Reiss and Jenny Boucek were mentioned. When I asked Ryan if there was a part of her that wanted to see that happen, Ryan was candid and honest.
“How could I not be? That would have been great, but sometimes people have different visions at different parts of their lives. This was Carla’s decision, and I think she did a great job,” noted Ryan.
What does Ryan see as her level of involvement in the program?
“I’m not sure, but I’m going to help, I’m not certain in what capacity, but make no mistake, this is Coach Mox’s program, I’m just excited to be back and will do whatever I can,” noted Ryan.
During coach Agugua-Hamilton’s opening remarks, she said, “There’s no reason why we can’t win here, but people make the place.” People like Debbie Ryan, who built the program into national prominence, and knows what it takes to return it to that level.
Get used to seeing a lot more of Coach Ryan, and that’s a good thing.
Story by Scott German