NCAA

Six reasons Tara VanDerveer the most underrated great coach in America

Six reasons Tara VanDerveer the most underrated great coach in America

They give no trophies or parades or rings as big as headlights for such things, and they don’t put it on plaques or the covers of media guides, but it can fairly be said that Tara VanDerveer is the most underrated great coach in America.

In any sport.

VanDerveer is a chunk of the weekend away from winning her 1,000th college basketball game, either Friday against Southern California or Monday against UCLA. It would make her the third coach in history after Pat Summitt and Mike Krzyzewski to achieve that well-rounded milestone, and you may bet hard American currency that she will answer the hackneyed, “What does this mean to you?” question with a dismissive “It means I’ve been around for a long time.”

Which is part of why she is so underrated. She’s been around for a very long time – next year will be her 40th – and between Idaho (two years), Ohio State (five), Stanford (30) and the U.S. Olympic Team (one), a very long time in this culture is an excuse to overlook, and overlooking leads to dismissing, and dismissing leads to underrating.

Next, she’s done most of her work on the West Coast, which due to the curvature of the earth, has always been undervalued by the opinionmakers in the East and Midwest by virtue of that traditional cultural defining point, bedtime.

Third, most of her career has been as a second banana, first to Summitt and Tennessee and then to Geno Auriemma. She’s taken eleven teams to the Final Four but won only twice, and our culture values silver and bronze medals the way we value dryer lint. It also doesn’t help that her teams lost four times to Auriemma’s Connecticut and twice to Summitt’s Tennessee.

Fourth, she never could muster up a good feud the way Auriemma and Summitt did. She had this annoying habit of getting along with almost all her contemporaries (and maybe all of them; we hold out hope that she disliked at least one coach, and that said hatred was reciprocated), and while she talked willingly and expansively to any medioid with a pen, a tape recorder, a camera or an Etch-A-Sketch, she left no earth scorched in her quotable wake. These days, that is a condemnation, not a laudable trait.

Fifth, being the third person to do anything is a little harder sell these days, especially when you’re not the first in either gender category.

But sixth and most compelling of these already seamless arguments, VanDerveer is mostly an insider’s coach. She has won a steady stream of raves from her peers for decades because she has not only won for three decades but been supportive of both her contemporaries and potential successors while mercilessly kicking their hinders. Her peers regard her as much as collaborator as competitor, but outside that circle she has not done the self-aggrandizing and sometimes degrading things that need to be done to become (ick) famous. Give her a choice between the ESPYs and a clinic in a hot gym in mid-July, and she will unhesitatingly choose option B.

Okay, almost unhesitatingly. The woman has an ego, like every other coach ever, and if some network ever needs to force an award upon her, she’ll find a way to turn up.

For all this, when the list of extraordinary coaches is drawn up, hers will not be a name that comes easily to paper (or laptop, or smartphone, or Etch-A-Sketch). She’s done everything a coach can do except aggressively seek out fame, which makes her underrated by definition.

But maybe if Stanford beats USC Friday, she’ll do the postgame presser drunk, or read from Rickey Henderson’s speech the day he broke Lou Brock’s stolen base record, or offer to beat up any other basketball coach in America, tavern parking lot rules, starting with Steve Kerr.

That’d get her noticed for something other than her technical ubercompetence or lofty success level or absurd longevity or nearly antiseptic reputation among her fellow toilers. But she won’t, of course, because she seems exactly the sort to enjoy her underrated-ness too much.

Which, while exceedingly admirable on nearly every level, isn’t the stuff of good clickbait.
 

From feeding homeless to doing the splits, Stanford's Phillips a rare find

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From feeding homeless to doing the splits, Stanford's Phillips a rare find

Stanford has a penchant for recruiting the overachieving student-athlete. Even among those standards, Harrison Phillips is a rare find. The senior defensive tackle helps feed the homeless every Friday morning at a local shelter. He often visits the kids in the oncology ward at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. He was named to the Pac-12 All Academic First Team and will graduate in December with a double major and a minor. He is a team captain and heir apparent to Solomon Thomas, the 49ers third overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.

“One thing you love about Harrison is, every day he’s going to get something done,” head coach David Shaw told NBC Sports Bay Area. “On the field, off the field, in the community, he’s always got a million things going on. But nothing ever suffers.

"He does everything at a high level.”

At 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, Phillips is a mountain of a man. His skill set is different than that of Thomas, but he can be just as disruptive. He plays over the center. He plays over the guards. His self-proclaimed job is to eat as many blocks as possible to keep the linebackers free.

“He’s such that hard point for us. He’s that guy up front that’s getting knock back, that force in the run game that you gotta have,” defensive coordinator Lance Anderson explained. “You have to have that strong solid point in the middle of your defense, and he provides that.”

Phillips had a game-high 11 tackles, five of them solo, in the Cardinal’s loss to USC. No other defensive lineman on the field had more than three.

“He’s outstanding against the run. He’s a very good pass rusher,” Shaw added. “He’s got a lot of tools that can work inside.”

Phillips main instruments of domination are strength, knowledge of leverage and abnormal flexibility for a man of his size.

“He can do the splits on command,” Thomas said laughing from in front of his locker after a recent 49ers practice. “He loves showing it off. We get on him for it. But he loves doing it.

And, according to Thomas, his former Stanford teammate loves to bench. So it comes as no surprise that Phillips’ upper body strength stands out.

“He’ll be really low in a position that you think he’d get knocked over in,” Thomas explained. “Because of how flexible he is, it’s not a problem for him to get in that position and stay there and move on from there. It definitely shows up on his film.”

No doubt, Phillips says, that ability comes from his wrestling experience. His high school curriculum vitae includes, “Nebraska State Wrestling Champion, Heavy Weight Division, Sophomore, Junior and Senior years.”

Phillips first year on The Farm, he vividly remembers his Stanford coaches testing him. Just a mere 245 pounds at the time, they put him up against Joshua Garnett and Andrus Peat, two offensive linemen now in the NFL and each well over 300 pounds.

“They’d double team me, almost 700 pounds on you, and I would somehow find leverage and be able to sit on some of those double teams,” Phillips said. “I think the violence that wrestling brings, and balance and being comfortable in weird positions, wrestling has a ton of scrambling, as it's called, you just know your body and know what you can do. I have tremendous flexibility, and I use everything to my advantage.”

One thing Phillips is not allowed to do is use his explosiveness away from the football field. At one time, Phillips could do a back flip off the wall, but he no longer attempts it.

“I’m not a big fan of the back hand springs,” Shaw said. “I’d like for him to stay on his feet.”

Phillips doesn’t argue. He lost his entire sophomore year to a knee injury, and doesn’t want to risk another. He has NFL aspirations and put himself in position to graduate in three-and-a-half years should he choose to enter the 2018 draft. But just as he has done at Stanford, he is looking to be more than just a name on a jersey should he play on a professional level.

“I want to build something that is really lasting,” Phillips said of his life goal, “and put my name on something to touch people’s lives and change people’s lives, pay it forward as much as I can.”

No. 6 USC routs No. 14 Stanford for 11th straight win

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USASTI

No. 6 USC routs No. 14 Stanford for 11th straight win

LOS ANGELES  — Steven Mitchell and Deontay Burnett caught two touchdown passes apiece from Sam Darnold, and No. 6 Southern California extended its winning streak to 11 games with a bruising 42-24 victory over No. 14 Stanford on Saturday night.

Darnold went 21 of 26 with 316 yards passing for the Trojans (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12), who snapped their three-game losing streak in this California private-school rivalry. USC racked up 623 total yards and won the first Pac-12 game of the new season by beating the hard-nosed Cardinal (1-1, 0-1) at their own physical game.

Ronald Jones II rushed for 116 yards and scored a touchdown in his ninth consecutive game as USC excelled at Stanford's traditional strengths, running the ball for 307 yards and controlling both lines of scrimmage. Turnovers and penalties by the Trojans kept it fairly close, but freshman Stephen Carr added 119 yards rushing, and Jones cartwheeled into the end zone with a clinching 23-yard TD run with 4:15 to play.

Keller Chryst passed for 172 yards and two touchdowns, while Bryce Love had a 75-yard TD run among his 160 yards rushing for the Cardinal, who hadn't played since their season-opening win over Rice in Australia last month.

After a scoreless third quarter, USC made a 90-yard scoring drive capped by Mitchell's second TD on a feathery 11-yard TD pass by Darnold with 9:42 to play. Stanford stayed close with J.J. Arcega-Whiteside's TD catch with 6:41 to play, but Jones' incredible second TD run capped a smooth 75-yard drive in USC's 11th consecutive win at the Coliseum.

Stanford had won eight of its last 11 meetings with USC in a dominant stretch that began with its historic 2007 upset victory at the Coliseum.

After USC scored 49 points in its season opener, Darnold's offense again was in fine form from the start. USC scored four touchdowns on five lengthy drives in the first half, with Darnold hitting Burnett for two of his three TD passes.

USC moved 74 yards on two plays late in the half to take a 28-17 lead on Burnett's leaping 25-yard TD grab.

THE TAKEAWAY

Stanford: That 62-point performance in the season opener Down Under was impossible to replicate against a top Pac-12 defense, and the Cardinal's offense will know it must add versatility to the attack. Stanford's defense also had big problems at the line of scrimmage, and that isn't a problem with which the Cardinal have much experience.

USC: This talent-laden offense has appeared to have the makings of a juggernaut so far. Darnold returned to 2016 form with a smooth, poised performance against a vaunted conference opponent, while the Trojans' receivers appear to be much more reliable than coach Clay Helton feared. USC's defense also stepped up after halftime and shut down one of the Pac-12's best.

UP NEXT

Stanford: The Cardinal's three-game stretch away from home to open the season concludes at San Diego State.

USC: The Trojans welcome Texas to the Coliseum for a meeting of two powerhouse programs.