Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Washington To Become General of Penn State Women

A quick note:
Mel just informed me that he received an early-morning phone call from Penn State to tell him they're planning a press conference at 2:30 this afternoon. Unfortunately, due to distance from University Park, Mel is unable to attend, but will stay updated from his office.

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ Sometime late last week, while most of Happy Valley was focusing on football and the annual spring game, Notre Dame associate head coach Coquese Washington was handed a blank paper by Penn State officials, who have entrusted her to map the way to the future of the women's basketball program.

An official announcement is expected by Monday (today) afternoon, if not earlier.

As of early Sunday night, Penn State was neither confirming nor denying reports leaking elsewhere through either knowledgeable sources or gossip on collegiate message boards.

Word of Washington's appointment circulated on a day that Penn State parted with its immediate and traditional past at the Nittany Lions' annual postseason awards banquet.

Senior Amanda Brown, named the team's most outstanding player, was absent attending the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks training camp. The pro team drafted her earlier this month.

Former coach Rene Portland, who resigned last month after 27 seasons, also did not attend.

Washington could not be reached for comment and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, soon to be Washington's ex-boss, left word she would not comment on Washington's candidacy until sometime Monday.

The new Penn State coach is a former star guard who led the Irish in thefts all four of her seasons (1989-93). What now will begin to get determined is how much of a steal the native of Flint, Mich., will become for Penn State officials who spent a little over a month seeking a replacement for Portland.

What is known is that Washington, who has been on McGraw's staff for eight seasons, has a tremendous work ethic, according to the Notre Dame coach's comment on the program's web site.

"Coquese has a great sense of the game as both a player and a coach,'' McGraw said. "She makes great suggestions during the game and has a terrific understanding of what things are working and what needs to be changed. I trust her decisions, and because she played for me, she knows what I'm looking for and I know where she's coming from.

"Plus, she has played in the WNBA, which builds an added level of trust and respect with our players. I have complete confidence in what she has to say and what she brings to the table.''

One thing Washington will bring with her to the Bryce Jordan Center is s a degree from Notre Dame law school, a worthy asset considering the recent controversies surrounding the Nittany Lions and the 54-year-old Portland, whose sudden resignation was announced a day later by the school on March 22.

Portland’s exit occurred a month after settlement of a controversial case in which a former player alleged Portland had discriminated against players in the women’s basketball program who were, or were presumed to be, gay.

Washington, who will become the first African-American woman to coach the program, played seven years, professionally, in the WNBA, and, originally, in the former American Basketball League.

She was the first president of the WNBA players' association, helping to unionizing her teammates and opponents.

Although, the appointment is perceived as a clean break with Portland's era, Washington has several indirect ties in that McGraw played for Portland in the mid-1970s at St. Joseph's in Philadelphia.

A current member of McGraw's staff is Angie Potthoff, who played at Penn State. It is not yet known if Washington has any plans to involve Potthoff on her staff.

Penn State officials seemed to indicate, without verbalizing, that persons associated with Portland either as assistant coaches or former players would not be considered for the vacancy.

Suzie McConnell-Serio, the Nittany Lions' all-time star who had coached the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA, was tabbed an immediate favorite for the job by reporters as well as followers of the team.

But other than a brief discussion with Penn State that McConnell-Serio alluded to earlier this month, she excitedly accepted Duquesne's offer to coach in her native Pittsburgh.

Washington, 36, is the most recent of a series of young African-American women who have becme head coaches in college.

Penn State was also said to strongly consider Connecticut assistant and former Huskies star Jamelle Elliott, although that has yet to be officially confirmed.

Dawn Staley, the three-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA all-star, had no coaching experience when Temple hired her in May of 2000. She has since taken the Owls into national prominence and five NCAA tournament appearances.

Tia Jackson, an assistant of former Duke coach Gail Goestenkors, was just named head coach at Washington. La Vonda Wagner is coaching at Oregon State. Jolette Law, a longtime aide to Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, is scheduled to interview this week for the opening at Charlotte, according to the Charlotte Observer.

The appointment of Washington comes in an unusual year in the collegiate game in which the season ended with a number of prominent openings, especially at the so-called BCS schools.

Goestenkors replaced Hall of Fame coach Jody Conradt at Texas and was replaced herself by Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie, after earlier agreeing to a contract extension.

Longtime Illinois coach Theresa Grentz, a former Immaculata teammate of Portland's, resigned last week. June Daugherty was fired at Washington and then accepted the head coaching job at Pacific Ten-rival Washington State.

Carolyn Peck was let go at Florida, which recently hired former Charlotte coach Amanda Butler, who played for the Gators. Louisiana State coach Pokey Chatman was let go right before the NCAA tournament after officials claimed confirmation of allegations Chatman had an inapropriate relationship with a player at the school when she had been an assistant coach. LSU recently hired former WNBA coach Van Chancellor, who is an inductee of the next Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame class in Springfield, Mass. He also is a former coach of Mississippi and also coached the U.S. squad to a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 2004.

Kentucky is also still open after the surprising resignation of Mickie DeMoss.

-- Mel


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