Debbie Ryan says goodbye to Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Virginia coach Debbie Ryan said when she told her team she was resigning after 34 years, they were "all in" to keep playing if they receive a WNIT bid.

Ryan met with reporters Monday, two days after she announced she was stepping down.

"This has been a great run for me," she said, seated alone at a table in front of the room, at times holding back tears. "It's been really fun. It's been the best years of my life."

Ryan said she told her team Saturday morning, and "would have gone either way with them" when it came time to ask if they were interested in accepting a bid in the WNIT, if offered.

"They made their own decision about wanting to play, and to a woman they were all in," she said. "I'm happy to continue to coach here as long as they want me to in terms of my players, and just feel like this is going to be a great thing for us because it's a very close group.

"I really want to do this now for them."

Virginia (16-15) was not selected to the NCAA tournament, a reality made worse with the university hosting first- and second-round games, but was chosen late Monday for WNIT. The Cavaliers will play Morgan State on Thursday.

Ryan declined to discuss the circumstances surrounding her resignation, as did athletic director Craig Littlepage, saying he wanted to respect her decision to stay away from the topic.

She said she has been overwhelmed by phone calls and e-mail from friends, former players and others in women's basketball, and was "taken aback" by comments made by her former players.

"I feel very honored and very humbled by some of the things they were saying," she said.

Ryan, who spent two years as an assistant at Virginia before taking over a 4-year-old program in 1977, has a career record of 736-323 and led Virginia to the NCAA tournament 24 times. Three times -- in 1990, '91 and '92 -- they reached the Final Four with Dawn Staley as their star player, and they lost to Tennessee in the 1991 national championship game.

For Ryan, though, the memories are not about the successes, but about people.

"Those years do not stand out any more than this year does," she said.

A cancer survivor who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2000, Ryan said she's interested in continuing to do behind-the-scenes things with cancer patients at Virginia's newly opened Emily Couric Cancer Treatment Center, Ryan said she's not ready to do that full time.

"I don't think that's probably enough for me because I am a basketball coach. That's who I am. I've been a part of athletics for my entire life and I love it," she said.

She did not rule out coaching again elsewhere.