Ratcliffe, 33, arrives after five seasons at St. Mary's, located across the San Francisco Bay from Stanford. The former UCLA standout was the West Coast Conference's and the NSCAA West Region's Coach of the Year in 2001, when he guided the Gaels to a 15-3-2 record and into the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
St. Mary's endured an injury-riddled 9-9-1 campaign last fall. Ratcliffe was 55-34-7 in his tenure at Moraga.
''Paul is a man of unflappable character and integrity and is known as an excellent communicator, tactician and team builder,'' Stanford athletic directors Ted Leland said in a statement. ''We are confident he will run a first-class women's soccer program on the field and off, one that our student-athletes, alumni, and fans can be proud of.''
Controversy has long plagued Stanford's women's soccer program. Andy Nelson, who ''resigned'' as head coach on the eve of the Cardinal's 2002 season opener amid accusations that he had pushed two players to the ground in practice, was the fourth coach in the span of five coaches to leave The Farm in questionable circumstances.
Stephanie Erickson and Paul Sapsford, Nelson's assistants, guided the Cardinal to a 21-1-1 record, the No. 1 ranking and the NCAA quarterfinals as interim coaches. Soccer America last month chose the duo as its College Women's Coaches of the Year.
Sapsford was Ratcliffe's assistant at St. Mary's in 2001.
Ratcliffe, who was born in England but raised in Southern California, was part of UCLA's 1990 NCAA championship squad and played two seasons in the Continental Indoor Soccer League, in 1993 with Los Angeles United and in 1994 with the Anaheim Splash.
He served three seasons as an assistant coach for UCLA's women's program and seven months as interim head coach after Joy Fawcett resigned as head coach in January 1996. He also was head coach of the Pacific Palisades Surf club team from 1992 to 1997.
Stanford lost only two critical players from its most recent squad, midfielder Callie Withers and forward Marcia Wallis, who were selected in the WUSA draft on Feb. 2.
Ratcliffe inherits the core of a defensive unit -- goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, defenders Alisan Pabon, Hayley Hunt, Natalie Spilger and Lindsay Hunt, and midfielder Ally Marquand -- that surrendered just four goals and shutout 19 opponents last season. Barnhart was a first-team NSCAA All-American, and she and Pabon were among Soccer America's 2002 MVPs. Hayley Hunt was selected to Soccer America's Freshman All-America team.
The Cardinal attack returns forward Marcie Ward, a 2001 NSCAA All-American.