PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Coquese Washington isn’t looking to replace C. Vivian Stringer as the women’s basketball coach at Rutgers. That’s an impossible task.
Stringer, a Hall of Famer, won more than 1,000 games in 50 years and went to the Final Four four times with three different teams – Cheyney State, Iowa and Rutgers.
The 51-year-old Washington admitted as much Tuesday after being introduced as the Scarlet Knights’ third full-time women’s head coach in nearly 40 years. A three-time Big Ten Conference coach of the year during a 12-year stint at Penn State, Washington said Stringer inspired her on and off the court. Washington’s goal is to build off the retired 74-year-old’s accomplishments and get Rutgers back to the NCAA Tournament as soon as possible.
“What’s going to be consistent is that determination to be excellent, the determination to give to your players and the importance of building those relationships,” Washington told a small crowd at Jersey Mike’s Arena.
Washington faces a major challenge next season after getting the job late, roughly three weeks after Stringer retired. She takes over a team that went 11-20 overall and 3-14 in the Big Ten under Tim Eatman this past season. He ran the team last season after Stringer decided not to coach because of concerns over COVID-19.
For now, the Rutgers roster is uncertain because of the transfer portal. There are three players returning, two incoming freshmen, four others in the portal, and a transfer who has not finalized her commitment.
Athletic director Pat Hobbs said he understands the problem and promised to be patient. He also said Washington, who was the associate head coach at Nortre Dame for the past two seasons, aced the virtual interview. She was the only candidate brought on campus for a second interview.
Hobbs had kept track of prospective coaches during the season, but the search never started until Stringer announced her retirement.
A former WNBA player and champion, Washington got a six-year contract that guarantees total compensation of $4.625 million with additional performance incentives.
The news conference was not only attended by some Rutgers women’s fans. Three Notre Dame players, who live locally, were also there: Dara Mabry, Natalijia Marshall and Olivia Miles.
“She’s so much more than a coach,” Mabry said. “She’s a lawyer. She’s really, really smart, very knowledgeable. A role model, especially for me. I know she’s going to be a role model to these girls. They’re really, really lucky to have her.”
Mabry said Washington even surprised Irish players at times on the court while working with them.
“Every now and then in practice, she would go fast and we would be like, `Whoa,”‘ Mabry said. “We weren’t expecting her to, like, still be able to move like that.”
Washington is returning to the head coaching ranks for the first time since 2018-19, her final season at Penn State. The stint produced three Big Ten titles and three coach of the year honors.
It also ended with only one winning season in the past five. It was something she attributed partially to outside issues, recruiting problems following the conviction of former Nittany Lions’ assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in 2012 for sexual abuse.
After spending a year as associate head coach under Sherri Coale at Oklahoma, Washington returned to her alma mater and worked two seasons at Notre Dame under Niele Ivey.
“I’ve been able to learn and grow a lot,” said Washington, who also served as president of the WNBA Players Association before getting back into coaching. “I wasn’t in a rush to be a head coach again, and it had to be the right opportunity. And this was that, this was that right opportunity.”
Still, replacing Stringer promises to be a challenge.
“I just want to be somebody that she will look and I say: `You know, you did a good job.’ “