Top-notch coach

Ohio State alumna Amy Tucker retires from coaching Stanford basketball

By Marc Katz

My first thought was that we need more people like Amy Tucker, who was such an outstanding basketball player at Springboro High School and Ohio State, and coach at OSU and Stanford. She has served as a beacon for women in sports for four decades.

My second thought was that we need her for coaching even more. Women’s basketball needs more women as head coaches, and Tucker never wanted to be one. That shouldn’t be her problem. It is ours.

To grow a product, we have to make it more attractive. Women’s basketball coaching is more attractive—because of relevance and pay scale. The unexpected consequence: men started wanting some of those jobs. That they’re obtaining them doesn’t bother Tucker as much as something else.

“It’s not that women aren’t coaching women’s basketball,” Tucker says in a recent telephone interview. “It’s that women aren’t coaching men. If coaching is coaching, why don’t men hire women to coach men?

“We’re only getting 50 percent of our jobs. We don’t have equal access to all coaching jobs.”

In the most recent Final Four, two of the schools were coached by women, two by men. On the men’s side, if you were a woman, you were carrying a water bottle and a towel.

I called Tucker to find out about her recent retirement from the coaching ranks. Except for a couple of years when she helped take over for head coach Tara VanDerveer, who had Olympic duties, Tucker has been an assistant.

“I never really wanted to be a head coach,” Tucker says. “I’ve always been more interested in the administration side, in helping things run. I never felt a calling to be a head coach.

“After moving to Stanford and having the success we’ve had in our program, I think it made it even harder to leave. We were winning.”

Even a call from alma mater Ohio State did not dissuade her from staying at Stanford. Eventually, OSU hired a man for the women’s coaching job. Tucker thinks some of that is due to men holding athletics director jobs, where coaches are hired.

“For the players, it’s great,” says Tucker, referring to advances made in women’s sports that give female athletes places to play. “There are full scholarships, there’s club basketball. For coaches, it’s declining for women. Most of the people hiring for those positions are men.”

Yet in a league where you’d least expect it—the NBA—San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich hired a woman as an assistant coach two years ago. Becky Hammon, who played 16 years in the WNBA, was added to Popovich’s staff.

“I give Gregg Popovich a lot of credit,” Tucker says. “He’s in the 21st century. He’s got the first assistant on his staff, and she’s doing a fabulous job.”

There are plenty of 56-year-old men hired for coaching jobs, but Tucker will not put herself in position to be one of the women of that age to take over a program. “I’m on the back nine of my career,” Tucker says. “I’m kind of phasing myself out of working altogether.

And she did her work well. Tucker is one of OSU’s all-time leading scorers and in the school’s athletics Hall of Fame. She is also in the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame.

Her record as VanDerveer’s lead recruiter is studded with All-Americans and while she was on the sidelines, Stanford won two NCAA titles and participated in 12 Final Fours, including this year’s. She could easily be listed among top coaches of any gender, along with VanDerveer, UConn’s Geno Auriemma, Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, Rutgers’ Vivian Stringer, UCLA’s John Wooden, Indiana’s Bob Knight, Dean Smith of North Carolina, and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke. But she hasn’t been listed.

Neither has a string of top assistant coaches who have stayed a long time in the game. She lists sort of a women’s basketball version of Ohio State’s Ernie Godfrey (1929-61) and Esco Sarkkinen (1946-77) in football.

“You kind of attach yourself to a program, and a program has so much success,” Tucker says. “It doesn’t matter  that it’s women’s basketball. … Really, really good teams [men and women] are fun to watch. When focus is just on dunking and playing above the rim and being super athletic, that’s not the women’s game. The women are very skilled, which is lost in the conversation a lot. I remember Annie Meyers at UD, a super talent, but she never got the publicity.”

Back then, few sought the publicity and Tucker never considered what her legacy would be as an assistant coach. Now, she wants to back away even more. “I wanted a change, more time to travel, more time to visit my family in Ohio, less of a structured schedule,” Tucker says. “No recruiting. Obviously, your season lasts six months, then you go into recruiting and workouts with your team. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to do what I wanted to do.”

There was time to be a top basketball player and a top-flight assistant coach. Amy Tucker talks of retirement, but there also seem to be plenty of good years left.

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at

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