Legendary women’s basketball pioneer C. Vivian Stringer is retiring after 50 years and 1,055 wins as a head coach, she announced Saturday.
Stringer, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, guided her teams to 28 NCAA tournament appearances and four Final Four berths across her storied career at Cheyney State, Iowa and most recently Rutgers.
Stringer’s retirement will be effective Sept. 1.
“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,” Stringer said in a release. “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.
“This was the hardest decision of my life, but I thank God he has allowed me to do the thing I love most. I am ready to start my new journey and spending more time with my family, children, and grandchildren. I am truly blessed to have had so many wonderful people in my life.”
The school said a national search for Stringer’s replacement will begin immediately.
Stringer, 74, is fourth all time in Division I women’s basketball victories, joining the likes of Tara VanDerveer, Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma with over 1,000 wins, and she was the first Black coach in the men’s or women’s game to hit that threshold. She was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001.
Stringer had been on paid leave from Rutgers since April 2021, shortly after signing a five-year contract, with associate head coach Tim Eatman serving as acting head coach ever since. While the team initially said her leave stemmed from fear of contracting COVID-19 and transmitting it to her daughter, who has spinal meningitis, the university has since denied that characterization but failed to clarify the rationale behind her absence, according to the Ashbury Park Press. The university said Saturday that Stringer will be paid $872,988 in a retirement agreement.
Rutgers went 11-20, including 3-14 in Big Ten play, this season.
Stringer was the first men’s or women’s basketball coach to guide three different programs to the Final Four, bringing national relevancy to each school she touched. She led Cheyney, a historically Black university where she coached from 1971 to 1983, to the first NCAA tournament championship game in 1982, when the Wolves fell to Louisiana Tech. At Iowa (1983-1995), she turned the Hawkeyes, who had won just seven games the season prior to her arrival, into a power, propelling them to their first national semifinal game in 1993. Along the way, Stringer secured the first women’s basketball advanced sellout at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It didn’t take long for her to replicate similar levels of success after assuming the helm in Piscataway, New Jersey, in 1995. Rutgers advanced to its first Final Four in 2000 as well as the national title game in 2007, in which it fell to Tennessee. Stringer took the Scarlet Knights to 10 straight NCAA tournaments from 2003 to 2012 while also guiding them to a WNIT title in 2014. Behind her teams’ trademark gritty defense, her 37 20-win seasons, the last of which she secured in 2019-20, are the most in NCAA history.
“I love Rutgers University for the incredible opportunity they offered me and the tremendous victories we achieved together,” Stringer said. “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.”
Stringer also helped produce 21 WNBA draft picks, including Sue Wicks, Cappie Pondexter and Essence Carson as well as current players Kia Vaughn, Epiphanny Prince, Erica Wheeler (who went undrafted), Betnijah Laney, reigning WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper and Arella Guirantes.
“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 said.
“Coach Stringer thank you for elevating our game,” tweeted South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, who earlier this month became the first Black head basketball coach to win multiple Division I national titles. “The strength of your shoulders allowed us to stand tall. We will forever keep your legacy in our hearts. Thank you Coach Stringer.”
Among Stringer’s other accolades, she was a three-time national coach of the year and four-time conference coach of the year, twice in the Big Ten and twice in the Big East. She was also an assistant on the 2004 Olympic gold medal-winning team in Athens.
Rutgers said the court at Jersey Mike’s Arena will be renamed after the coach.