Rutgers becomes the first Big Ten school to hire a Black woman coach whose predecessor also is Black. Coquese Washington last week was named the third full-time WBB coach in Rutgers history, succeeding the retiring C. Vivian Stringer.
“You can’t replace the legend,” was Washington’s response to a reporter’s question during her May 24 introductory press conference when asked about Stringer, the all-time winningest Black college coach and Hall of Famer. “It’s just not possible,” stressed the new coach.
“When you look at Coach Stringer’s legacy, most people look at the championships. What’s really important is when you go to the Final Four and you see how many of her former players, whether they were Cheyney or Iowa or Rutgers, come together and celebrate Coach Stringer. That’s impressive.”
Deb Walker, a member of Stringer’s 1982 Cheyney State NCAA runners-up squad, the first and still only HBCU school to play in a Division I national championship game, praised Rutgers’ selection. “Coquese Washington is a great hire for Rutgers,” she said.
Washington played and studied at Notre Dame in the mid-1990s where she earned her undergraduate degree in only three years and later her juris doctorate from Notre Dame Law School in 1997. She then played six WNBA seasons, including with the 2000 Houston Comets champions. Before her retirement as a player, Washington became the first WNBAer to lead three different squads to the postseason.
The new Rutgers coach also helped start the WNBA Players Association, served as its founding president (1999 to 2001) and executive vice president (2001-03), and led the negotiations for the league’s first collective bargaining agreement. The Flint, Mich. native was twice an assistant coach at her alma mater in separate stints (assistant, 1999-05; associate HC, 2005-07; and associate, 2020-22).
Her first head coaching position came at Penn State (2007-19), where she won three consecutive Big Ten titles, two Sweet 16 appearances (2012, 2014), three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year (2012-14), and twice Black Coaches Association Female Coach of the Year (2011, 2014). She also was Oklahoma associate head coach (2019-20).
“Her resume speaks volumes about her coaching skills. Her life speaks volumes about the great woman that she is,” noted Walker.
“Being at Rutgers is an unbelievable privilege,” admitted Washington. “I’m looking forward to enjoying a tremendous amount of success both on and off the court, and representing this university and this program in a way that this community deserves and expects.
“I’ve been inspired by Coach Stringer over my career…by who she is and the legacy that she’s left,” stressed her successor. “I’m not trying to replace her. I’m just trying to build on what she taught, what she meant.”
Furthermore, Washington politely pointed out when asked to compare herself with Stringer, “We’re two different people. What is going to be consistent is the determination to be excellent.”
“Although she stands on the shoulders of Coach Stringer,” said Walker of Washington, “she is not in competition with the C. Vivian Stringer legacy. She has her own agenda. Her future on The Banks (the Rutgers’ main campus) is bright.
“I wish her the best.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.