Shea Ralph leaving UConn for Vanderbilt head coaching job

Shea Ralph is leaving UConn after 13 seasons as an assistant under Geno Auriemma.

Ralph, one of the most popular players in program history, was named head coach at Vanderbilt on Tuesday morning.

Vanderbilt recently fired Stephanie White, who had a 46-83 record in five seasons.

Ralph’s husband Tom Garrick, the coach at UMass Lowell, is expected to be part of her staff. Garrick, a former NBA player who coached his alma mater Rhode Island, served as an assistant at Vanderbilt from 2009 to 2015.

Ralph, 43, returned to UConn after five years as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh. She has been perceived as a head coaching candidate, even cited as a possible successor to Auriemma.

“I would like to congratulate Shea on being named the head coach at Vanderbilt University,” Auriemma said in a statement. “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.”

As a player, Ralph was an All-American, Honda Award winner and NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding player when she led UConn to the 2000 NCAA title.

Ralph scored 1,678 career points, eighth on UConn’s all-time list. She is also among the program leaders in assists (456), steals (252) and field goal percentage (.579).

As a player and coach, Ralph was part of seven national titles at UConn.

A high school star in North Carolina, Ralph was the subject of a heated recruiting battle between UConn and Tennessee. She wound up in Connecticut, emerging as the face of the program in the late 1990s.

After breaking into coaching at Pittsburgh, Ralph became a vital member of Auriemma’s staff and gained the reputation as a strong recruiter. She was not with the team during this season’s NCAA Tournament after returning home because a member of her family tested positive for COVID-19.

At Vanderbilt, she will inherit a program that has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2014. Vanderbilt last won the SEC Tournament in 2009 and the program’s deepest NCAA run was a Final Four appearance in 1993.

“It is with great honor and a full heart that I join Vanderbilt University as the next women’s basketball head coach,” Ralph said in a statement. “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.”

Ralph is the second member of Auriemma’s coaching tree to land a job at a Power Five school. Marisa Moseley, who served at UConn for nine years, was recently hired at Wisconsin after three seasons as Boston University head coach.

UConn’s staff consists of Auriemma, associate head coach Chris Dailey and assistant Jamelle Elliott. The school said in a statement that it will conduct a national search for Ralph’s replacement.

paul.doyle@hearstmediact.com