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CHARLOTTESVILLE – Craig Littlepage, University of Virginia director of athletics, announced Saturday that Debbie Ryan has decided to step down as women’s head basketball coach effective at the end of the 2010-11 season.

Ryan, a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, has been the head coach of the Virginia women’s basketball team for 34 years, all but four years of the program’s existence. She also served as an assistant coach in the program for two years before becoming head coach.

“Throughout her 36 years at the University of Virginia, Debbie Ryan has been the model for dignity, dedication, class and courage,” Littlepage said. “No one has a greater love for the University of Virginia and I’m grateful for all of her contributions to our women’s basketball program and our department. In addition to her contributions to the game nationally, her impact has been felt on the international basketball scene as well.

“Debbie is a unique treasure to our local community and those of us who have worked directly with her have been tremendously enriched.”

Ryan’s Virginia teams have compiled an overall record of 736-323, won 20 or more games 23 times and 30 or more twice. The Cavaliers participated in the NCAA Tournament 24 times under her direction and made three consecutive Final Four appearances from 1990-92.

Only eight other active Division I women’s basketball coaches have reached the 700-win milestone.

“I am leaving the program in excellent condition as we have great players here and on the way,” Ryan said. “Our players are good students and exemplify the standards of excellence that we live by in our department. I am not retiring per se, but I feel we have not lived up to my own standards and expectations this past year and I want to do what is best for our program and the University.

“More than anything I love my players, both past and present, and that is what I will miss the most about leaving. I will see this year’s team through the upcoming WNIT if we are fortunate to be selected.”

The 2010-11 Virginia team is 16-15 (5-9 ACC) and lost 74-68 to Wake Forest in the first round of the 2011 ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament. The team is waiting to see if it receives an invitation to participate in a postseason tournament.

“In the immediate future I will remain in Charlottesville and choose an area of the University that fits my skills,” Ryan said. “The Emily Couric Cancer Treatment Center is of particular interest to me, but I have not settled on anything yet.

“I have loved every minute of my career as the women’s head basketball coach at UVa. I have been blessed to work in a nurturing environment with exceptional young women, truly dedicated coaches and talented administrators and colleagues.”

Ryan’s teams reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen 12 times, including 11 consecutive years (1987-97), won three Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament titles and 11 ACC regular-season championships.

Ryan was honored as the Naismith Coach of the Year in 1991 by the Atlanta Tipoff Club and has earned ACC Coach of the Year honors seven times. She has also been a head coach six times for the USA Basketball organization.

The Virginia General Assembly honored Ryan in 1997 for her success and she was named the Outstanding Woman of the Year by the Virginia Women’s Forum in 1991.

“Debbie Ryan is an iconic figure in women’s basketball,” said Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan. “I first became aware of her and her influence on the sport while I was at UT-Austin. After arriving in Charlottesville, I soon learned that she’s also an icon in the fight against cancer. Debbie exhibited the same courage and determination in leading the University’s young women on the court as she did in her own struggle with cancer.

“She was instrumental in the planning of the recently opened Emily Couric Cancer Treatment Center. This is a facility that was built from the patient’s point of view – largely because of the persuasive vision of both Debbie and the late Emily Couric. We are grateful to Debbie for her many contributions to the University.”

A national search for a new head coach will begin immediately. The new head coach will assemble an assistant coaching staff and it will be the choice of the new coach to determine if any current staff members are retained. Littlepage did not specify a time frame for concluding the search, taking into account the fact that many of the possible candidates will be involved in postseason play. Littlepage said that he would make no further comments about the search until it’s concluded.

“Our goals for the UVa women’s basketball program will remain the same,” Littlepage said. “Debbie Ryan has established a very high standard both on and off the court. We want to be successful on the court and in the classroom while providing an outstanding experience for our student athletes in all aspects of their University life.

“I believe this coaching position will be attractive to a number of outstanding coaches whose backgrounds and styles align with our goals and values.”

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