NORFOLK, Va. — Marianne Stanley hadn't even considered coaching women's basketball until she was a junior at Pennsylvania's Immaculata College in 1975. Three years later, as the 23-year-old head coach at Old Dominion University, she led the Lady Monarchs to a 30-4 record and the championship in the National Women's Invitational. The next two years, 1979 and '80, she won national championships in the now defunct Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, her teams finishing with 35-1 and 37-1 records. Now in her eighth year at Old Dominion, Stanley has the top winning percentage among active coaches, male or female, in Division I basketball. She has a 219-30 record (an .880 percentage) following Old Dominion's 52-48 victory over USC Friday.
But folks, we're not talking about the John Wooden or Ray Meyer of women's college basketball here. At 5-6 and with the pudgy-faced looks of a Girl Scout selling cookies at your door, Stanley hardly has the distinguished appearance one tends to associate with a coach with such lofty status. Nobody tosses around words such as venerable or revered in describing the 30-year-old Stanley. Compared to most coaches, she's just a kid. Although Stanley may not look the part of the nation's most successful coach, however, she sure knows how to play it. She has won more in eight years than most people win in a lifetime. She's at it again this year. Old Dominion, the country's most dominant women's team during the last decade, is 14-0 and ranked No. 1. Success has been a constant in Stanley's life. She starred at Archbishop Pendergast High School in Philadelphia and went on to become a two-time All-American at Immaculata. She played in four national championship games during college and helped her school win two AIAW titles. In her only coaching experience before getting the job at Old Dominion, Stanley, as an assistant under Cathy Rush, helped Immaculata to the 1977 national championship game, which the Mighty Macs lost. About her only major setback in life has been a failed marriage. She married Rich Stanley, her high school sweetheart, in her junior season at Immaculata, gave birth to a child, Michelle, during her senior year, and was divorced by the time she reached Old Dominion. Stanley, however, prefers not to talk about her personal life. Asked how difficult it was being a single parent, considering the demands of coaching, Stanley replied, "I don't really want to talk about my personal life, just about basketball." There was an incident in 1980 in which Stanley, who has a reputation for toughness in the Tidewater area, chased an unarmed intruder from her Norfolk home. "I'm not gonna talk about that," she said. After discussing various aspects of the basketball program, the topic turned to Pam Parsons, the coach Stanley succeeded at Old Dominion in 1977. Parsons moved on to South Carolina, then resigned in 1981 just before a Sports Illustrated article exposed her homosexual involvement with players. Stanley said: "No comment on the Parsons article," and added, "Don't ask me about my family and child and all that, OK? We're done." End of interview. There have been other similar moments at Old Dominion. Despite her success, or perhaps because of it, Stanley is a controversial figure. In 1977, she took over a team that already had All-American Nancy Lieberman and future All-American Inge Nissen. Some folks around here said that anyone could have coached the Lady Monarchs--that Stanley won her championships with Parsons' talent. There were others who credited Jerry Busone, former assistant coach, with being the brains behind the operation during the championship years. Busone is now the women's coach at the University of Hawaii. Stanley has weathered the criticism. "At first, I was sensitive to it, because I obviously didn't have anything to do with Nancy Lieberman's ability or Inge Nissen's ability," Stanley said. "I'm not gonna take credit for that. But I think I demonstrated early that I had a knack for being successful, and that's invaluable as a leader. "Some people said I was there baby-sitting those teams, and that hurt, because I wanted to at least be acknowledged for having worked hard and done my share. Anyone who made those kind of statements was on the outside and didn't have a good idea of what was going on day to day."