UNIVERSITY PARK — At a news conference in April, acting athletic director David Joyner promised that Penn State women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington, who had days earlier interviewed for the vacant Michigan job, would “be well cared for” by the university.
Nearly five months to the day later, Penn State announced Wednesday just how well they’ll take care of the reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Washington received a five-year contract extension through the 2017 season with a compensation package that approaches $3.5 million.
“I am very happy to announce these terms,” said Joyner in a university statement Wednesday evening. “This represents the continued and strong commitment between Penn State and one of our great coaches.”
Because of a team activity, Washington was unavailable for comment Wednesday evening. Through a university statement she said, “The Penn State community has been a wonderful blessing to me and my family and I am truly honored to continue serving as the head coach of Lady Lion basketball.”
Washington, a former Notre Dame standout, WNBA player and Fighting Irish assistant coach, inherited a program in turmoil when she took over in April of 2007 following longtime head coach Rene Portland’s resignation. After two losing seasons (Penn State’s fourth straight), Washington began rebuilding the program that had been a perennial Top 25 squad.
She’s guided the Lady Lions to back-to- back NCAA Tournament appearances and a 51-17 mark over the past two seasons. Penn State went 26-7 last season, won its first Big Ten regular-season title since 2004 and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
Seen as a rising star among women’s college coaches, Washington had a Big Ten competitor show immediate interest. After Michigan coach Kevin Borseth resigned on April 4, the Wolverines brought in Washington, a Flint, Mich., native, on April 11 to interview for the vacancy.
Less than a week after that interview, Washington and Joyner appeared at the April 16 news conference to announce that the Lady Lion coach was staying put and that she would receive a contract extension in the future.
“Sometimes to be sure about something you have to compare it and there’s no shame in that,” Washington explained at that news conference. “... Penn State is just the place for me. My heart is here and this is my home and I love it here. I really love it here.”
While the contract details have been worked out over the ensuing months, Washington and her staff have stayed busy landing oral commitments from one of the biggest recruiting classes in program history. Seven players, including four ranked among the nation’s Top 100 by ESPNHoopGurlz, have orally committed to Penn State for the Class of 2013 and are eligible to sign letters-of- intent during the early signing period in November.
Washington already has an oral commitment for the Class of 2015.
Nearly every recruit has mentioned a connection with Washington, a mother of two, as being a major reason in the decision to attend Penn State.
“Coach Quese is the coach that I have imagined would coach me in college. She is just the perfect role model and mentor that I’m looking for,” said Petyon Whitted, a 2013 recruit from North Gwinnet, Ga., earlier this summer. “... She doesn’t want the team to be just good basketball players. It’s more than a basketball player she wants to recruit. She wants to help me to become a better person and better student. In every way possible, she wants to make me better when I leave Penn State. That was the big thing that set Penn State apart because I know she really cares about me.”
Current Lady Lions also speak very highly of their coach, the university’s lone African-American head coach among its 31 varsity sports.
“She’s a great coach,” senior point guard Alex Bentley said in April. “I think she can go anywhere in the country. We are very privileged and blessed to have her here at Penn State rebuilding this program. What she’s done in five years is amazing.”
With four starters returning, the Lady Lions likely will be the favorites in the Big Ten again this season and among the top teams in the country when preseason rankings are announced. Penn State finished 11-th in the final Associated Press poll and ninth in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll last season.
“Coquese’s impact on our student-athletes, university and community has been extremely positive in her first five years here,” Joyner added in his statement. “We look forward to the next five years and beyond as Penn State's outstanding Lady Lions soar even higher under her leadership.”
Penn State plays host to California, Pa., in an exhibition game on Nov. 3 before opening its regular season against Howard on Nov. 11 at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Walt Moody can be reached at 231-4630. Follow him on Twitter @wmoodycdt