C. Vivian Stringer is the first Black coach to reach 1,000 career wins in a nearly half-century career that began in the 1970s before Title IX, back when a gallon of gas cost 40 cents, a stamp was eight cents, and it only cost $1.50 to see a movie.
On November 13 Stringer became the sixth women’s basketball coach in NCAA history and the fifth Division I coach to reach the grand milestone, which brought well-deserved worldwide acclaim. Now in her 24th season at Rutgers, the Hall of Fame coach made history years ago as the first female coach to lead three different schools to the Final Four: Cheyney State in Pennsylvania (1982), Iowa (1993), and Rutgers (2000, 2007), twice finishing as national champions runners-up (1982, 2001).
In her second stint in the Big Ten, Stringer is expected later this season to become the first conference coach to win 200 regular-season games. She won 169 games at Iowa (1983-95) and 30 at Rutgers, who joined the conference in 2010.
Other oft-underreported key facts of Stringer’s career include the 18 players she coached who later became WNBA draft picks. She also coached former Minneapolis North star Mauri Horton, a key member of RU’s first Final Four club in 2000.
Stringer still remains the only Black coach to lead an HBCU (Cheyney) to the national championship game, losing in 1982 to Louisiana Tech in the NCAA’s first-ever title game.
The only two Black females ever to win national championships as coaches paid homage last week to Stringer in “love letters” published in The Undefeated: “You have done it such an elegant way…in a profession that doesn’t have many African American women to set the example for being successful,” wrote Dawn Staley, South Carolina, 2017.
“You have broken down barriers…an incredible ambassador for women and women’s basketball,” wrote Carolyn Peck, the first Black coach to win an NCAA women’s title (Purdue, 1999), now a broadcaster.
Stringer, on the eve of her historic milestone, spoke to reporters on a November 12 media call. When asked, she told the MSR how much winning all those games means to her already legendary status. “I remember hearing about a coach [winning] a thousand [games] in high school. I said to myself, ‘Wow.’ Then I remember when I got 700 and 800 [wins] and thinking those were a lot of games I have seen.
“It doesn’t cement anything,” she stressed, “but that I’ve been blessed that people trust me to give me and my staff a chance…and they believed in me.
“I knew very early…it was not just about basketball” but rather about preparing her players for life after hoops whenever and wherever their post-athletic lives began after graduation from college, Stringer continued. “I am happy and grateful that I have the opportunity to continue to shape the lives of these young women in this exciting age that we are going through right now.”
Along with the countless players over the years, Stringer credits her success to “the people who encouraged me tremendously. Number one always was my [late] husband,” she said.
“He always made me feel I could do anything. He would brag about me.” Also influential were her parents: “I think my mom and dad taught me a long time ago to know that nothing happens by accident.
“I’ve seen it all, and I’ve gotten a chance to live through that,” Stringer said. “I am so, so lucky.”
The other Big Ten Black coach
Coquese Washington, with Stringer one of the Big Ten’s only two Black head basketball coaches, women or men, won her 200th career win Sunday. Now in her 12th season at Penn State, Washington has guided the school to three Big Ten championships and seven post-season appearances.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.