Leading Players: Celebrating NCAA Women’s Basketball Coaches & their Bard Counterparts

In honor of Women’s History Month we’ve compiled a list of college coaches with similarities to leading players from Shakespeare’s greatest works. Check out our list of 2024 TOP 10 ranked NCAA Women’s coaches and their leading Shakespeare counterparts.

Time to Read: 5 minutes

This year the sports world witnessed University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbough inspire his #1 ranked team with an adaptation of Shakespeare’s  St. Crispin’s Day Speech (Henry V), further solidifying the canon as a staple to be used not only in the classroom but even in the locker room. 

Within the Shakespeare universe, we meet characters, spirits, and even mythological creatures who help guide the leading players toward their destiny. This got us thinking about people who shape and guide the minds of today’s new generation of students, artists, and athletes like the inspiring NCAA coaches who have helped their players and universities navigate the terrain of life.

And so, in honor of Women’s History Month and because March Madness is upon us, we’ve compiled a list of 2024 TOP 10 ranked NCAA Women’s coaches and their Shakespeare Counterparts. Follow us on social media @playonshakes, to learn more and view the full results from the tournament ending April 8th.

The Coaches


Well-known University of South Carolina coach Dawn Staley calls for discipline while building the self esteem of players: Her motivational authority and basketball legacy  likens her to Henry V of Henry V translated by Lloyd Suh. His shift from  youth to caring king is similar to the rise of Staley as a living legend who is well known for being a college athlete, WNBA player, olympian, and now championship coach securing the 2022 Championship title. 


Stanford University’s Tara VanDerveer, known as the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history (male, female, or nonbinary) often says she works for those in the locker room. Knowing early on that she wanted to coach and help others, VanDerveer— reminds us of Portia from Merchant of Venice, translated by Elise Thoron, using her intelligence and determination as she attempts to aid others.


University of Iowa’s coach Lisa Marie Bluder is known as a coach with high expectations. Bluder has recruited many of the greatest competitive-minded players who excel in the fundamentals of the game. Like Rosalind of As You Like It, translated by David Ivers, we gain a unique opportunity to witness the intelligence and charm that allow them both to navigate challenging situations. For Rosalind, disguising herself as a man to express the fullness of her humanity, Bluder will have to slap on a smile to push through the haunting reality of losing the 2023 Championship to LSU.  


This year’s #4 ranked team, Ohio State, led by coach Kevin McGuff, is our Friar Lawrence of this season. McGuff believes he is challenged with growing and developing not only his athletes but adults who will be key players in life. He has a larger outlook on life and helps bring solutions to the challenges they face with an uncanny ability to balance the game of basketball with the game of life, just as Friar Lawrence who wants to help Romeo navigate his struggles while aiding in his goal of running away with Juliet in the classic tale of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet* translated by Hansol Jung.


The basketball powerhouse better known as University of Southern California is being led by coach Lindsay Gottlieb. With his brooding nature and introspective mind, Prince Hamlet of Hamlet, translated by Lisa Peterson, captivates audiences with his complex emotions and philosophical musings. His determination to achieve his goals is similar to the feat Gottlieb had in finding a coaching job within the constraints of the unspoken rule that coaches under 40 don’t have the maturity or experience to coach a Division 1 NCAA program. Both fighting to learn the lessons from those before them while creating a path that allowed them peace, we look forward to seeing if Gottlieb can avenge the underestimation of young coaches to become the leader of the 2024 Champions.


University of Texas Vic Schaefer is often described as ambitious and straight to the point and is known for letting his intense passion for winning overtake his composed demeanor which are the characteristics of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Macbeth*, translated by Migdalia Cruz, shows the lead character’s descent into madness as he grapples with his ambition and the consequences of his actions. Schaefer and Macbeth are complex characters whose pursuit of success leaves fans glued to the stage and screen.


Cori Close, coach of UCLA’s women’s program, insists on elevating the mental training and focus, which in turn grounds her players’ self image as a foundation for their style and legacy much like Prospero. In The Tempest*, translated by Kenneth Cavander,  we experience Prospero’s wisdom and magical abilities to shift perspectives and transform himself just as the players from the UCLA roster discuss.


Last year’s champions, Louisiana State University, led by Kim Mulkey, is the ultimate living version of Puck. The whimsical character featured in A Midsummer Night’s Dream* translated by Jeffrey Whitty, is mischievous and playful which are key descriptors of Mulkey’s personality. From her on-court clothing to her recruitment tactics, Puck and LSU’s Mulkey both bring magic to the Bard and the basketball court alike.


University of Connecticut’s coach Geno Auriemma is a true Horatio. Auriemma’s honesty and passion for players reminds us of the deep loyalty Horatio shows in Julius Caesar translated by Shishir Kurup. A level head and sense of stability in the midst of chaos are key characteristics that both these men show on and off the battlefield and/or court. 


Ranked #10, player favorite Wes Moore, Coach of North Carolina State, is clearly a Viola of the canon. In Twelfth Night*, translated by Alison Carey, we experience Viola’s resilience and resourcefulness. She navigates through challenging situations with wit and grace, capturing the hearts of those around her just as Moore does with his players. His care for his team members and the sport create a sense of loyalty, bravery, and sacrifice among his players.

Maybe you’re not the biggest fan of basketball. Now that you know their Shakespeare counterparts, watch along with us to see if any of these coaches and their counterparts make it to the 2024 NCAA Women’s National Championship. Who do you think will come out on top?