A “coaching tree” historically refers to a head coach whose career has produced head coaching jobs for others. Sadly, this reference seems only to apply to White coaches.
You often hear about the late Pat Summitt’s “tree,” but we hear nothing about Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer’s, the only Black coach to amass 1,000 career victories. That career began at Cheyney State University, an HBCU, in 1971, the same year Title IX was passed.
She’s now at 1,014 wins and counting, and earlier this season she became Rutgers’ all-time basketball victories leader — men’s or women’s — and has the most Big Ten victories in conference history. She also coached at Iowa.
“You think of someone who has been coaching at the collegiate level for some 40-plus years, her reach is so long and so strong,” University of Illinois-Chicago Head Coach Tasha Pointer said of Stringer in an MSR phone interview. Pointer played for Stringer at Rutgers (1997-2001), and then later returned and worked as an assistant coach for eight seasons.
Pointer also had similar assistant stints at Northwestern, Columbia, Xavier and St. John’s. This is the Chicago native’s first season at UIC after being hired last April.
“No, never,” Pointer admitted when asked if she had envisioned herself in coaching. “I never wanted to coach because I’d have to deal with young adults who were more like myself [at their age] who thought that you understand the world. It wasn’t until after playing collegiately that I understood the importance of having more female role models and, more importantly, more female coaches.”
“Throughout my basketball career prior to going to Rutgers, I never had a female coach,” Pointer recalled. “To see Coach Stringer — a strong, feminine, but competitive woman — that meant the world to me.”
“She’s been ready to become a head coach for quite some time,” Stringer said of Pointer’s hiring in a UIC press release.
Pointer was hard pressed to estimate the number of females like herself who Stringer in some way or another influenced to become coaches. “There are so many young ladies that she coached who are [now] coaches,” she said.
The almighty Internet hasn’t been any help, either. Current South Carolina Assistant Coach Jolette Law, a former Stringer assistant, once was the University of Illinois head coach. Georgia Assistant Coach Chelsea Newton, a former Rutgers player, told the Macon [Ga.] Telegraph that her college coach “is the whole reason why I’m here.”
Even Stringer couldn’t offer an estimate of her “tree” when the MSR talked to her after Sunday’s Rutgers-Minnesota game at Williams Arena. Before the contest, Minnesota honored Stringer on her milestone accomplishment.
Stringer responded humbly to our “tree” question: “Honestly, I don’t know how many. I just know I love what I do, and I think that anybody who loves the game and wants to somehow impact it in some way will do it the same way.
“Coach Pointer is just starting [as a head coach]. She will have a tremendous impact,” Stringer predicted. “She is capable of doing some nice things, and she loves what she’s doing.”
According to Pointer, her college coach has successfully passed the test of time. “She hasn’t lost touch with the young ladies she teaches,” the UIC coach noted. “She really is a great teacher. She goes above and beyond what some coaches may do.”
We might not know from the coaching tree Stringer has grown over the years exactly how far and wide its branches extend, but we do know it is alive and strong and should be more widely recognized as such.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.