PISCATAWAY – The newest era for the Rutgers women’s basketball program has officially begun.
Coquese Washington, just the third full-time head coach in the team’s history, was introduced Tuesday at a news conference at Jersey Mike’s Arena as she replaces Hall of Famer C. Vivian Stringer, a monumental task but it’s not one that Washington is necessarily worried about.
That’s because for Washington, there’s no replacing someone of Stringer’s stature.
“You can’t replace a legend,” Washington said. “It’s not just possible. So I’m not trying to replace anybody. I’ve been inspired by Coach Stringer about my career. I’ve been enthused by who she is and the legacy that she’s left. So I’m not trying to replace her.”
Instead, Washington now has the chance to build on what Stringer accomplished with the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers hasn’t been at the heights that it reached more than a decade ago, when the Scarlet Knights were NCAA Tournament mainstays under Stringer, an elite women’s basketball program that produced a bevy of pros.
But Washington believes the appeal is still as high as it’s ever been.
“When you look at what these players have done in terms of how many players have been drafted, how many players have been All-American, honorable mention All-American,” Washington said. “This is still a program that draws some of the best players in the country.”
The 51-year-old Washington, who signed a six-year contract worth a guaranteed $4,625 million with additional incentives, has ample coaching experience.
She spent the last two seasons as the associate head coach at Notre Dame, her alma mater. Three of her Fighting Irish players, including former Manasquan star Dara Mabrey and Blair Academy product Olivia Miles, were in attendance.
But Washington’s first head coaching experience came at Penn State, where she spent 12 seasons leading the Nittany Lions from 2007-19. She earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors three separate seasons.
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Washington guided Penn State to three Big Ten titles and four NCAA Tournament appearances, including a pair of trips to the Sweet 16. Overall Washington went 209-169 at the helm of the Nittany Lions.
Athletic director Pat Hobbs said Washington, who played six seasons in the WNBA during her playing days and was the founding president of the WNBA Players Association, immediately stood out in the search process.
“When you look at Coquese Washington’s record, and there’s not a lot of people you can say this about, she’s literally done it all,” Hobbs said. “In the sport of women’s basketball, Coach Washington has done it all.
When Hobbs had a chance to talk to Washington, he made sure this was a job she wanted – and planned to stay in for a while.
“My first criteria is always, ‘Do you want to be at Rutgers? Is the Rutgers job an attractive job to you?’” Hobbs said. “She couldn’t have been more clear about that. She sees this as a school that has a great academic institution, a school that’s invested in the resources so now they can be successful.”
Now Washington has its newest challenge – and it’s a considerable one.
She must succeed Stringer, who retired last month after five decades of coaching and more than 1,000 victories. Stringer led Rutgers to levels to the program hadn’t seen before after taking over in 1995, including 17 NCAA Tournament appearances, two Final Fours and a trip to the championship game in 2007.
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But the final years of Stringer’s tenure were turbulent.
Stringer didn’t coach last season while away from the team on a leave of absence. The Scarlet Knights went 11-20, including a 3-14 mark in the Big Ten, under acting head coach Tim Eatman.
Rutgers has plenty of roster turnover, something Washington will now need to stabilize. She said putting together a coaching staff and finalizing a roster are among her immediate priorities.
The Scarlet Knights in recent years under Stringer didn’t recruit New Jersey players too heavily, but Washington is plenty familiar with the area having recruited the region in previous stops.
“There’s a lot of talent in this area, a lot of great club coaches, a lot of great high school coaches so certainly one of the things for our program will be building those relationships,” Washington said. “If we can keep the best talent in state, that’s absolutely what we want to do.”
But she also said that Rutgers has the ability to recruit nationally, and she plans to do that as well.
It’s been nearly 30 years since Stringer hasn’t been at the helm of the Scarlet Knights. Tuesday’s news conference represented a new beginning for the program.
But replacing Stringer isn’t something Washington is looking to do.
“The reality is we’re two different people,” Washington said, “we came from two different eras.”
Chris Iseman is the Rutgers football beat writer for the USA TODAY Network-New Jersey. For unlimited access to all Rutgers analysis, news and more, please subscribe today and download our app.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @chrisiseman