Kathy Delaney-Smith has been the women's basketball coach at Harvard since 1982. Now, after 40 seasons and an all-time winning record, she's retiring. She coached her last regular season game earlier this week and today takes on Princeton in the first round of the Ivy League tournament. Paris Alston, host of GBH’s Morning Edition, talked to Delaney-Smith about her career and how women’s basketball has changed for the better. This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Kathy Delaney-Smith: I would describe myself as a nontraditional head coach, so my players called me Kathy. People on the outside who don't understand my leadership style or my management style, and they'll say things to me like, “well, do your athletes respect you? You're not going to get the respect if you let them call you, Kathy.” And I would answer, the respect comes from a whole slew of other things. I like to sit with my athletes at the training table. I like to sit beside them on the bus. I like to ask about their relationships, their dogs, their families, and I'm in it for the relationships.

Paris Alston: You've seen a lot. How has the game changed from when you started in 1982 to now?

Delaney-Smith: Dramatically, the game has changed dramatically in some ways and stayed the same in other ways. I don't want anyone to get mad at me, but I think there are better athletes now. When I started at Harvard, it was a challenge to get all of my players to buy into strength training and love the strength room. And then there were body image concerns and there were parents who said, "No, I don't want my daughter to get big." And you know, there was just all kinds of misinformation about lifting and the value of that regarding performance, and that's not true anymore. My athletes, that's a part of the program that they love.

I think the things that women can do with the ball, like the ball handling, the shooting, the shooting range, the power — that's all much better now than it was 40 years ago.

Alston: You've said before that sports is one of the greatest classrooms of life. Why is that?

Delaney-Smith: You get to practice so many of the skills that you need in life, from confidence to concentration to discipline, to work ethic, to talking to one another through conflict. And women are in sports way more than they ever have been, and we're seeing the end results as you look at corporations and businesses and management, and even my alumni at Harvard are off the charts in what they are able to do in the business world, for example, Maura Healey, the attorney general, hopefully about to become governor. These are women who learn things through the classroom of sports that otherwise they either wouldn't have learned, or it would have taken them much longer.

Alston: The respect should have been there in the first place, right? But do you think that the places where they're showing up and the skills that they're bringing are earning them more visibility in the sports world?

Delaney-Smith: One hundred percent. I probably won't even be around when we finally get to what I want us to get to — which is total equality, because we live in a world that's driven by money. And so if we're trying to get on TV, our attendance has to be such. Anyone that comes to a women's basketball game and has said, "I don't really like women's basketball. I like men's basketball," when they come to a game, they change. Because women's basketball is really entertaining and fun to watch. It's just — the world doesn't know that yet because we don't have the same exposure on any level that men do, and that's true of all sports, unfortunately.

"Women are in sports way more than they ever have been, and we're seeing the end results as you look at corporations and businesses and management."
-Kathy Delaney-Smith

Alston: What advice, if any, do you have for your successor?

Delaney-Smith: We require our student athletes to be excellent in the classroom and in their sport, and so there are big-time coaches that come in and say, “we're going to miss class time and don't take this class because you can't go to practice.” There's a discipline for me and my student athletes to make it work. And so I would hope whoever replaces me will understand Harvard and will love the culture that is there and keep that culture going.

I love Harvard and I love the basketball program and I want to come and coach 10 rows back like so many people do. I can sit 10 rows back and tell you exactly when to call your timeout and who to put in the game. So I think that it's time for me to wear that hat. And I'll bake brownies for the team, and I'll take them out to dinner and I'll do all those things, I hope I can do all those things that so many of our supporters at Harvard do for us and we love.