April 30, 2022 

C. Vivian Stringer announces retirement after legendary career

The Hall of Fame coach laid a foundation in women's basketball

C. Vivian Stringer announced her retirement from a Hall of Fame coaching career this weekend. In 50 years of coaching that included stops at Cheyney State, Iowa and Rutgers, Stringer compiled 1,055 wins, four Final Four appearances and 28 NCAA Tournament berths. Her retirement will become effective on Sept. 1, 2022.

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“I am officially announcing my retirement,” said Stringer. “My life has been defined by coaching and I’ve been on this journey for over five decades. It is rare that someone gets to do what they love for this long and I have been fortunate to do that. I love Rutgers University for the incredible opportunity they offered me and the tremendous victories we achieved together. There’s always a soft spot in my heart for the University of Iowa and Dr. Christine Grant for giving me my first major coaching position, when me and my husband trusted her to move our family to Iowa. She was a strong believer in women’s rights and that’s a responsibility that I have championed and will continue to take up the fight for.

“After recently celebrating the first women’s Final Four team at Cheyney State University, where it all started, it sat with me that I have been at this for a long time. It is important to step aside and challenge others to step up and take this game forward. I am forever indebted to all the coaches who I worked beside. Some were former players, some were colleagues, but all were friends and family at the end of the day and were my most trusted relationships. To the young ladies that I was fortunate to have coached and mentored into the women and leaders of today, keep pushing the barriers, keep pushing for your spot at the table, and always know who you are.”

Stringer became head coach of the Scarlet Knights in 1995 and amassed a record of 535-291. Her tenure included 18 NCAA Tournament appearances, including Final Four appearances in 2000 and 2007. She won a WNIT championship with the program in 2014.

The coach’s retirement comes as a bit of a surprise, as she signed a five-year, $5.5 million contract with Rutgers in April 2021. Prior to the 2021-22 season, Rutgers announced that Stringer would take a leave of absence for the entire season. At the time, a spokesperson for the coach cited concerns about COVID-19 as her reason for stepping away. Stringer has since reportedly denied those claims, so the reason for her extended absence remains unclear.

“Out of respect for her privacy and pursuant to law, we cannot provide any greater specificity into her circumstances,” said a Rutgers University athletics spokesperson.

The program struggled through an 11-20 record this season under the direction of top assistant Tim Eatman. The Scarlet Knights finished 13th in a competitive Big Ten conference. A national search for a new head coach is underway. Rutgers will also name the court at Jersey Mike’s Arena after Stringer.

A legacy of mentorship

Stringer’s impact on the game of women’s basketball is much larger than wins, losses and on-court accomplishments. She has spent her entire career working to grow the sport and mentoring young women.

In 1971, Stringer was hired to teach physical education at Cheyney State, a small, historically Black school (HBCU). She would go on to coach the women’s basketball team, bridging significant resource and institutional gaps to compete against larger, more established programs.

Stringer elevated Cheyney State’s profile by reaching the championship game in the first-ever NCAA women’s basketball tournament in 1982. To this day, her program remains the only HBCU to reach the NCAA Tournament final.

After 12 seasons at Cheyney State, Stringer continued her coaching career at the University of Iowa, building the Hawkeyes into a nationally recognized program. Her success with the Hawkeyes peaked at the 1993 Final Four, making Stringer the only coach at the time to have led two different programs to college basketball’s final weekend.

At Rutgers, Stringer coached several players who would go on to achieve successful professional basketball careers, including Cappie Pondexter, Essence Carson, Kia Vaughn, Betnijah Laney and reigning WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper.

After Rutgers’ 2007 national title game appearance, radio host Don Imus made racist, sexist comments about the players. In response, Stringer supported her players’ decision to directly confront the host.

“You don’t get too many opportunities to finally stand up for what you know is right,” a 20-year-old Carson said at the time. “I know we’re at a young age but we definitely understand what is right and what should get done and what should be made of this. We’re happy — we’re glad to finally have the opportunity to stand up for what we know is right.”

As one of the few Black female coaches in a male- and white-dominated college basketball landscape, Stringer has been a trailblazer and served as a mentor for countless Black female coaches. South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, who just this season became the first Black head coach (men’s or women’s) to win two Division I national championships, has identified Stringer as a mentor and inspiration for her success. Stringer was awarded the Black Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.

“Coach Stringer is a titan in college basketball, inspiring generations of student-athletes and coaches to pursue excellence on and off the court,” Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs said in the team’s announcement. “As the first coach to lead three different programs to the Final Four, she will continue to be mentioned along with the game’s other great Hall of Famers. Her place in the history of the game is cemented, but more remarkable is the legions of young women whose lives she helped shape.”

C. Vivian Stringer’s fingerprints are all over the history of women’s basketball. Her legacy can be felt in the consistent success of players she has coached and the increase of Black women in head coaching positions around the country.

Stringer changed the game of women’s basketball forever, and her retirement marks a seismic shift in the college basketball landscape.

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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