Decency and Winning Were Stringer’s Calling Card


(Photo Credit from the 2007 Final Four: Jay L. Clendenin/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

I covered Big East’s Women Basketball Media Day at the now-defunct ESPN Zone in 2006. It was an opportunity to interview Rutgers basketball coach Vivian Stringer. I always wanted to get a chance to talk to her about basketball and life. I just wanted to get a peek into her mind.

I received my wish, and Stringer filled up my notebook for a 30-minute interview. She couldn’t stop talking. She enjoyed talking to anyone about basketball and life. She was a pleasure to talk to. For her to give this nobody a time of day, that’s something I will never forget.

This moment came to my mind when I found out Stringer retired Saturday after 50 seasons of coaching basketball.

You can talk about Stringer’s accomplishments as a college basketball coach such as 1,005 wins and taking three different teams (Cheyney State, Iowa and Rutgers) to the Final Four. You can talk about her being a trailblazer. You can talk about her being a mentor to young women and coaches. These are all great points that should define her. For me, it was that she was such a great person.

It’s rare you see great coaches be great people. Most of them are egotistical and self-serving. I can assure you Stringer was not. This is what we need to remember her for.

Maybe it may not mean much for the average sports fan, but it should.

I hate to say this, but Rutgers will be hard-pressed to replace her. Unless somehow and someway athletic director Pat Hobbs nab Dawn Staley out of South Carolina, it’s going to be hard to get a coach that is as good as Stringer.

For Stringer to make Rutgers a college basketball powerhouse, this may be her biggest accomplishment as a college basketball coach. This was a project she took in 1995. Five years later, the Scarlet Knights made it to the Final Four. She made another Final Four appearance in 2007. Does anyone realize how hard it is to win at Rutgers? It took a while for Greg Schiano to build a good college basketball program there in his first tour of duty. It took many decades until the university got it right by hiring Steve Pikiell to turn the basketball program around.

Stringer’s work goes beyond wins. She developed players such as Cappie Poindexter, Essence Carson, Matee Ajavon, Kia Vaughn and Epiphany Prince, and she made them good people. She was such a great teacher. She had them respect the game. She made those teams likable. Her players were the image of her, which is tenacious and smart.

She knew how to find the right players to fit her system. This can be hard to find when players are in their own world. She could easily recruit blue-chippers, but she wanted to find the right makeup with the players. She found players that were coachable and teachable. It can be hard to do and find.

Stringer never took shortcuts to win. She always drafted players that were diamonds in the rough and molded them into good players.

Her basketball teams were fundamentally sound. Her teams never took plays off. They always put on a better product every game.

Stringer is well-respected by her peers for a reason. She does things the right way. She respects the game. To produce wins and earn the admiration of her peers and her players, that’s the best compliment anyone can have for a head coach.

She should have no regrets. She coached for 50 seasons, which is impressive enough. Yes, people define coaches and athletes on how many championships, but that shouldn’t be the be-all end all, especially with college coaches. Stringer gets credit for her impact on people whether it’s players or mentoring coaches.

From interviewing Stringer, I can see why players enjoyed playing for her. They performed for her because they admired her. They never want to disappoint a head coach who was like a mother to them. That’s a mark of a great leader when players work hard to not disappoint her or make her look bad.

This game is going to miss her as much as she will miss the game.

I know I am going to miss watching her and hearing her wisdom in her pressers. I am blessed I got the experience to talk to her once. It’s my favorite moment of working in sports media.

She is a treasure. People and coaches like her are hard to find these days.

As great as the game was to her, she was good to the game, too.

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