CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – It didn’t take Virginia athletic director Carla Williams long to decide she really liked Tina Thompson.
It took Thompson even less time to say “yes” when Williams offered her Virginia’s women’s basketball coaching job.
The way Thompson tells it, a half-hour conversation Friday ended with Williams suggesting Thompson get on an 8 a.m. flight the next morning to come tour the campus and meet face-to-face. She agreed, and by Sunday was offered the job.
“Seconds after that, I said yes,” Thompson said. She received a five-year contract with $325,000 annually in base pay and $325,000 annually in other compensation.
Both sides are hoping the positive vibes of their short courtship will lead to Virginia’s return to prominence.
“The first conversation was just really, really impressive and that’s why I wanted to meet with her quickly,” Williams said. “Once I had a chance to visit with her and we talked for a very long time and I asked a lot of questions, just exactly what we need. Exactly what we need.”
Thompson, 43, has just three years of coaching experience, two as an assistant at Texas, and last year as the Longhorns’ associate head coach. That time convinced her she’d made the right choice after some initial reluctance to get into coaching.
Part of the issue was her own decorated career, which was driven by a high competitive level and included nearly unprecedented success.
She played on four WNBA championship teams and two Olympic gold medal-winners. When she retired in 2013, she was the WNBA’s career scoring leader. In September, she’ll be inducted as part of the 2018 class into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Consultations with other coaches convinced her to give it a try.
Their advice? “Meet them where they are, and kind of slowly pour into them the things that you want,” Thompson said. “And it worked.”
Thompson also was a successful recruiter, especially when she decided to tap into her own experience.
“I fell in love with the coaches that told me the things that were not so much fun and how hard it was going to be, and how the process was not easy at all,” she said. “That honesty and that truth to me is … the foundation of great relationships.”
After the introductory news conference Wednesday, Williams was even more convinced she’d hired the right person.
“She had no fear. I guess when you compete on the world stage and you win Olympic gold medals, and you win European championships and you’re competing at the highest levels of the game, you have to have that mentality,” Williams said.
Thompson, who played in college and Southern California, seemed unintimidated by her lack of experience.
“It’s not often that someone with my experience gets to be part of a program so prestigious, so committed to excellence and young people, not just academically but athletically. That is absolutely who I am and what I embody,” she said.
Among those in the audience were former Virginia coaches Joanne Boyle and Debbie Ryan. Boyle retired in March after seven seasons to tend to a family matter. Ryan made Virginia one of the nation’s elite programs during a 34-year career that included three Final Fours and 24 NCAA Tournaments.
Several players also attended, including 6-foot-9 rising junior Felicia Aiyeotan, who said she went from nervous about who the school would hire to thrilled when she learned it would be Thompson. Among Thompson’s roles at Texas was coaching the Longhorns’ post players.
“I’ve definitely seen the improvement from the post players at Texas,” Aiyeotan said following the news conference. “Definitely know that she knows what she’s doing. …. I think she’ll be a great coach for me and I’m really super-excited about it.”
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