Stringer Stands Tall At Rutgers
GREENSBORO, N.C. - If you didn't know much about C. Vivian Stringer prior to last spring, or perhaps just thought she was eternally stuck in the shadows of women's basketball coaching icons Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt, you know differently now. Stringer seems to be everywhere these days. Walk into your local Borders or Barnes & Noble, and there is Stringer, wearing a bright red jacket and flowing hair on the cover of her new autobiography, "Standing Tall - A Memoir of Tragedy and Triumph." A few days ago, Stringer was on "Oprah" to talk about her personal journey. In the wake of the Don Imus controversy in April, Stringer and her players were on the cover of Newsweek. On Saturday, Stringer was back in her familiar Rutgers coaching attire as she prepared the Scarlet Knights for today's Sweet 16 showdown with George Washington. With two victories at the Greensboro Regional, Stringer can add another memorable chapter to her story, a trip to Tampa and a second consecutive appearance in the Final Four.The Scarlet Knights lost to Tennessee in the championship game a year ago. Shortly afterward, Stringer found herself caught up in a racial firestorm concerning comments made by shock-jock Imus about her players. Through it all - like her book title suggests - Stringer stood tall and remained focused on her team and what she could do to minimize any outside distractions. "I have never coached a group like this, and I never will again," Stringer said. "They are unique in and unto themselves. They truly are. All of what they dealt with, this was the perfect group. Imus ... perfect group; the Final Four, and to come back to that, perfect group. "They are very capable of being a Final Four team and a national championship team." When Stringer arrived at Rutgers in 1995, the program was invisible on the national landscape much like her previous two jobs were - at tiny Cheyney University and Iowa - when she first stepped foot on campus. Stringer led Cheyney to the women's Final Four in 1982, and guided the Hawkeyes there in 1993. In her fifth season at Rutgers, in 2000, Stringer became the first men's or women's coach to lead three schools to the Final Four. She finally made her first title game appearance last season. And Stringer always does it her way. When the NCAA Women's Tournament committee placed Rutgers as the No. 2 seed in the East Region - setting up a showdown with Big East foe and top-ranked Connecticut on Tuesday if both win today - Stringer talked about how the committee seemed out to get her. That's Stringer, always an underdog seeking an edge. "Coach Stringer is going to do whatever it takes to get us ready to play," junior center Kia Vaughn said. In her 37th year as a head coach, Stringer's way is obviously still working, even though the journey to get back to this year's Final Four has taken some unexpected turns. That's when Stringer seems at her best. In order to succeed at this game - or, I believe, at anything - you have to see yourself as an essential part of the win. Stringer wrote those words in "Standing Tall." She'll try to live them today against George Washington.
Reporter Scott Carter can be reached at (850) 294-3088 or [email protected]