Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Women's College Basketball [Print without images]

Monday, April 23, 2007
Washington becomes new Penn State coach

Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State introduced Coquese Washington as head women's basketball coach, and turned the established program over to a career assistant without head coaching experience.

The 36-year-old replaces Rene Portland, who went 606-236 at Penn State in a 27-year career but stepped down in March a month after she and the university settled a lawsuit by a former player who claimed Portland had a "no-lesbian" policy.

Washington, a successful player at Notre Dame, had been an assistant to Irish head coach Muffet McGraw for eight years before getting hired Monday at Penn State. The announcement capped what she described as a whirlwind courtship that spanned just over a week.

"When you hear the name Penn State, your eyes are going to get big, and you think, 'Wow,'" Washington said at a news conference at Beaver Stadium. "There's something wrong with your heart if it's not beating right."

Washington played for the Irish from 1989-93, helping the program to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 1992. She went on to play in the now-defunct ABL and the WNBA, where she helped the Houston Comets win the title in 2000 and served as the first president of the league's Players Association.

"We think she just fit very well with Penn State," athletic director Tim Curley said. "We have a certain thing here, certain people can do well here. We have certain values to live by. ... It's all about fit."

Washington helped McGraw lead Notre Dame to the national title in 2001 and was instrumental in developing the Irish guards, which would fit with the "Point Guard U." image that Portland established at Penn State. Washington is also known as a successful recruiter.

"It is hard to keep such talented assistants from moving into the head coaching positions, and we're grateful we had the chance to enjoy Coquese's abilities for as long as we did," McGraw said in a statement.

Washington said she was contacted just more than a week ago by Penn State, and that the Lady Lions job was the only position she was interested in.

So with her husband, 2-year-old son and mother looking on, Washington smiled proudly as she was presented with a No. 1 Lady Lions jersey. She was eager to get to work in the corner office Portland occupied while leading Penn State to 21 NCAA tournament appearances in her tenure.

This past season, Portland became the ninth women's basketball coach to win 600 games at one school. But the program had slipped to 13-16 in 2005-06 -- the Lady Lions' first losing season in 33 years -- and finished 15-16 in 2006-07.

She was also dogged by allegations from former player Jennifer Harris.

In a December 2005 lawsuit, Harris accused Portland of "humiliating, berating and ostracizing" her, and claimed she was told she needed to look more feminine. The suit alleged Portland tried to force Harris, who says she is not gay, to leave the team.

Penn State investigated and threatened to fire Portland for any future violation of the school's nondiscrimination policy. She was fined $10,000 by the university and ordered to take professional development "devoted to diversity and inclusiveness."

Portland maintained Harris' departure was related purely to basketball issues.

Civil rights groups, though, pointed to comments Portland made about homosexuality dating back to 1986 as signs of long-term concerns with the former coach.

"I think the university has already tried to show its respect for all people. That will continue," school president Graham Spanier said. "We think with our new coach, who is strongly committed to making sure that all players live up to their potential and look ahead and stand behind the university values ... things will be just fine."