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Penn State hires assistant coach

Jay Fitzpatrick | Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Irish bench is going to look a little different next year.

After spending 12 years with Notre Dame – four as a player and the last eight as an assistant coach -Irish assistant coach Coquese Washington accepted the head coaching position at Penn State Monday.

The position opened when former Lady Lions head coach Rene Portland stepped down March 23 following allegations that she discriminated against lesbian players.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw said that Washington is prepared to step into the head coaching role.

“She has the total package,” McGraw said. “She’s going to be a great head coach. I think she’s ready for the challenges ,and I know that she’s excited about this opportunity.”

As a player at Notre Dame from 1989-93, Washington was a role player, earning a monogram all four years while leading the team in steals in four seasons and assists in three. For her career, Washington is ranked second in Irish history in steals (307), second in steals per game (2.7), fifth in assists (554) and fourth in assists per game (4.9).

Washington continued her playing career in the WNBA for seven seasons, winning a championship with the Houston Comets in 2000. She continued her education during that time, earning her juris doctorate from Notre Dame Law School in 1997, which she used as the first president of the WNBA Players Association. In that role, she helped formulate the league’s first collective bargaining agreement.

Washington has played an important role in both game-planning and recruiting for the Irish. She focused on coaching the guards and was crucial in developing Frances Pomeroy Naismith award winners Niele Ivey (2001) and Megan Duffy (2005).

“She’s really grown tremendously into the coach that she is now from all the different experiences she’s had here working with so many different players,” McGraw said. “And she has done a great job of working with our guards. She’s done a very good job recruiting.”

Washington became the sixth former assistant coach or player under McGraw who has moved on to coach a Division I team. Former McGraw assistants Sandy Bothman (Wisconsin-Milwaukee), Bill Fennelly (Iowa State), Kevin McGuff (Xavier) and Carol Owens (Northern Illinois), as well as former player Beth Cunningham (Virginia Commonwealth), are all members of the McGraw coaching tree.

McGraw said that while losing a coach like Washington is difficult, it is an inevitable part of coaching college basketball.

“When you graduate a player who did a lot for the team, I think it’s the same thing with coaching,” McGraw said. “You’re always going to lose people. I feel like it’s my job to get them ready for a head coaching job.”

McGraw also said that Washington’s departure could give her other coaches – Jonathan Tsipis and Angie Potthoff – a chance to step up to fill that void.

“It will be an opportunity for somebody to come in and then do some things here,” she said. “And it will also be an opportunity for the two assistants that we currently have to do a little bit more.”

One additional problem with Washington going to Penn State is that the Irish are scheduled to play them next season at the Joyce Center in the second leg of a home-and-home series. McGraw said that this causes a problem because she does not like to play against her former assistants and avoids scheduling games against their teams whenever possible.

“It’s just interesting that they’re already on the schedule, but we’ll see,” she said. “They have not called yet about dropping the game but we certainly will talk about that.”