This past week, Stanford men’s basketball team parted ways with Johnny Dawkins, and the search for a new head coach is underway. To target the right candidate, we should ask ourselves: What must the ideal Stanford men’s basketball coach have? Obviously winning is important: This person should have a winning percentage of over 85 percent at a previous post and a history of winning conference tournaments and reaching the Final Four. A track record of recruiting McDonald’s All-Americans, while also turning under-recruited student-athletes into powerhouses, would also be ideal.
At Stanford, a coach must be a role model, having excelled both on and off the court. A graduate degree or two would set a great example. Then again, perhaps it is more important that the coach has played professionally. Actually, our perfect coach would have both graduate degrees and have played professionally. Any such candidate would instantly earn the respect of the current team and future recruits. At Stanford, the endowment matters, so a coach who can fundraise from our existing donors is a necessity, and if donations come in from previously uninterested alums, even better. Lastly, to ensure we retain this gem of a coach, let’s find someone with a personal and family connection to Stanford.
These criteria sound utterly unrealistic because in a sense, they are. The candidate who is being proposed here is so eminently qualified that it is hard to imagine why she is not already a head coach.
Kate Paye, assistant coach for the women’s basketball team since 2007, fits all of the admittedly absurd criteria above and then some. Coach Paye came to Stanford as a walk-on in 1992, was immediately part of a national championship team and then proceeded to earn a scholarship, Pac-10 All-Academic honors three times and team captain twice. She played professionally for six years and has since earned her combined JD/MBA … from Stanford. She coached at San Diego State and Pepperdine before coming home to Stanford, and her record on The Farm speaks for itself: seven conference titles, six Final Fours, too many All-American players to figure out and numerous professional players in the WNBA and around the world. Certainly much of the team’s success can be attributed to Tara VanDerveer, but anyone associated with the team can attest to how instrumental Coach Paye has been during her time. There is a reason she gets mentioned as the heir apparent to Coach VanDerveer’s dynasty. Frankly, the only bad thing you can say about Coach Paye’s coaching resume is it’s hard to keep under the word limit for this piece.
The elephant in the room is that Coach Paye lacks a Y chromosome. It is saddening that her gender would prevent any school from recruiting her, but it would be completely unacceptable if a school as progressive and meritocratic as Stanford did not pursue her while she studied game film in the same building as the Athletic Director. Her resume is without compare. What other college coach fought his/her way to the pro ranks after walking on to a college team, has multiple graduate degrees from the most prestigious programs in the country and has proven herself able to get the best out of All-Americans and walk-ons alike?
Some will note that she has not been a head coach herself. Neither was David Shaw, and that seems to have worked out. Others will question Coach Paye’s ability to recruit. Neither Stanford nor the 21st century should be interested in an 18-year-old who would not play for a coach because she’s a woman. There are unquestionably talented players who would relish the opportunity to compete for championships while making history with Coach Paye. She would find those players in the unlikely event they did not find her first.
Coach Paye has an incredible job. She works under a Hall of Fame coach at her alma mater winning games with players she loves. She currently is coaching a team much better than our men’s basketball team. She may not even be tempted by the men’s job. That said, the athletic department has an obligation to recruit her just as it would any other over-qualified but unlikely-to-leave candidate.
Daniel Spinosa, 2010
Ilan Kolkowitz, 2011