Mel Evans/Associated Press file photo
Mel Evans/Associated Press file photo
Sylvia Hatchell just got there. It’s only a matter of time before her friend C. Vivian Stringer joins her.
But there won’t be many more coaches entering the 900-win club. Women’s basketball is getting more competitive, and the pressure of the job is growing, too.
There was a time when women’s basketball was an afterthought to athletic departments. Head coaches were hired right out of college, and success on the court wasn’t necessarily as important as Title IX compliance.
Now, that’s not the case, and more money is at stake.
“I’m in my 38th year,” said Hatchell, who earned her 900th victory last week. “I started when I was 23 when I went to Francis Marion. I had a player that was older than I was. We all started young. The opportunities were there right after Title IX. I think there’s so much pressure now, you don’t see the longevity we’ve all gone through. There’s so much pressure to win. I don’t know if coaches can last that long.”
Stringer is one victory shy of 900. The Hall of Fame coach, who is in her 42nd season – including the last 18 at Rutgers, has come under fire this year. Rutgers, which has nine underclassmen on the roster, is having a rare down year, and Stringer’s $1-million salary has come under scrutiny. The school’s streak of making the last 10 NCAA Tournaments is in jeopardy unless the Scarlet Knights go on a late season run, which is not out of the question – it’s something Stringer has done many times in the past.
When Stringer and 900-win club members Hatchell, Jody Conradt and Pat Summitt first got started, there only were a handful of schools that were competitive in women’s basketball.
Now there are a lot more, not to mention much more television exposure.
“I do think winning is harder now than it’s ever been,” said Geno Auriemma, who got his 828th victory Saturday against Stringer’s Scarlet Knights. “People don’t stay in the business as long as they used to. You don’t have as many career coaches. To be in a situation where you have to average 30 wins for 30 years in order to get to 900, when you put it in that context, it’s something I can’t imagine doing. I look back now, and if someone said that to me 28 years ago, I would say I have no idea how anyone could do that.”
Auriemma, Tara VanDerveer and Andy Landers all are within reach of joining the 900-win club in the next few years. A few others have a shot at it, including Muffet McGraw, who just passed the 700-victory plateau. But after the Notre Dame coach it would be difficult to see anyone making a run at that number.
“Anything is possible, but you really have to find yourself in the epitome of situations,” Auriemma said. “You have to be at the right school with the right resources, the right athletic director, the right president, and then you have to get off and running at an early age and make yourself kind of synonymous with the school where you are. I think you have to be in a great environment with the ability to put together a winning team at a place that really cares about the game.
“All those things are hard to come by. So, nothing’s impossible, but it will be tough.”
It’s rare that someone gets a head coaching job anymore before they turn 30. And most coaches don’t inherit teams that can win 30 games right away. Then, if they have a few bad seasons in a row, odds are they will be looking for another job.
“I had the opportunity to start my career without a lot of pressure,” said McGraw, who just started a 10-year contract. “I think we had limited success when I first started, but you didn’t worry about losing your job. In the late ’80s you could grow as a coach and learn from your mistakes and keep going on. That’s not possible anymore.”
This past offseason there were a record 75 coaching changes. Only 25 percent of those teams have winning records. Of that group, only 54-year-old rookie coach Holly Warlick at Tennessee has a good shot at 30 wins. And only one coach gets to follow Summitt.
Sherri Coale was 5-22 in her first season in Oklahoma in 1996 and didn’t win 30 games until her fifth season. Sixteen seasons later she’s approaching her 400th career victory and has had a lot of success. She can’t ever seeing coming close to that 900-win total, though.
“A lot of folks hang around the business for a long time and don’t have those kind of numbers, so it’s obviously impressive, and they’re icons of our game,” she said. “In this league (the Big 12), I’ll have to do this until I’m like, 97, to even get close.”
Hatchell and Stringer will have reached the 900-win club in very different fashion. Hatchell loves focusing on offense, while Stringer is a defensive stalwart.
Amazingly, despite the nearly 2,500 games that they’ve coached in their illustrious careers, they’ve only faced each other once. That happened back in 1989 when Stringer was at Iowa and the two teams played in the Hilton Head Island Super Shootout. It wasn’t much of a contest, as Stringer’s team routed Hatchell’s North Carolina squad 106-81.
“Has it only been once?” Hatchell said with a laugh. “I try to forget that game. I hate losing.”
What’s most impressive about Stringer’s run is that, unlike the other coaches who mostly have earned their victories at one school, she’s taken three to national prominence. Stringer had successful runs at Cheyney State, Iowa and Rutgers, taking all three to the Final Four. She did it while playing one of the toughest schedules in the country every season.
“There are a lot of different ways to get the milk in the jug,” Hatchell said.
AP Basketball Writer Stephen Hawkins in Waco, Texas contributed to this report.
Winslow Townson/Associated Press file photo