Women's Basketball

Penn State, women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington part ways after recent struggles

Coquese Washington and Penn State parted ways Friday after the Lady Lions’ recent struggles. Washington coached the women’s basketball team for 12 years.
Coquese Washington and Penn State parted ways Friday after the Lady Lions’ recent struggles. Washington coached the women’s basketball team for 12 years. Centre Daily Times, file

After 12 seasons, Penn State has decided to move on from women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington.

The athletic department announced Friday afternoon that her contract would not be renewed. Washington had just one winning season over her last five.

“We both agree that the program is not where it needs to be,” Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said in a written statement, “and this change of leadership is best at this time.”

A national search will begin immediately for her replacement, and the search firm Ventura Partners will assist the university. Penn State’s next women’s basketball coach will be just its third since the 1980-81 season.

Washington leaves Happy Valley with a 209-169 overall record and a 98-106 mark in Big Ten play. She also had seven career postseason appearances — four in NCAAs, three in the WNIT — and boasted three Big Ten Coach of the Year honors.

“I’ve had an amazing run at Penn State,” Washington said in a written statement. “I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work with some wonderful people, especially the talented and dedicated staff members who were with me along this journey.

“I was fortunate to coach some extremely talented players along the way and will remember the fantastic experiences we enjoyed together. I am thankful for the Penn State and Lady Lion fans who supported us strongly year-in and year-out. I will always look back at my time at Penn State with fond memories while taking on this next chapter with my family.”

Washington experienced a lot of success in the middle of her Penn State tenure, but she was unable to replicate that the last few years.

She took over for Rene Portland, the coach from 1980-2007 who resigned in the wake of a federal lawsuit and internal university review regarding the “hostile, intimidating and offensive environment” she created in response to a player’s perceived sexual orientation. Portland, who passed away last year at the age of 65, suffered uncharacteristic losing seasons in her final two years at the helm.

Washington took over in 2007-08, and success was initially hard to come by. She went 13-18 and 11-18 her first two seasons — but then caught her stride. The next five years proved to be the highlight of her Lady Lions career.

During that time, she experienced five straight winning seasons, five straight postesason berths (four in NCAAs), three straight Big Ten titles and two Sweet Sixteen appearances. But Washington and the women’s basketball program never recovered after the following offseason — when they lost four key senior starters to graduation.

Penn State finished 6-24 the next season in 2014-15, its fewest number of wins since playing an eight-game schedule in 1974. Since that time, the Lady Lions never finished better than seventh in the conference standings.

The women’s basketball team still made the WNIT in 2016-17 and 2017-18, but came up short in the most recent season with a 12-18 overall record and a 5-13 mark in Big Ten play.

“I am very appreciative of Coquese’s contributions to the Lady Lion basketball program and Penn State,” Barbour said. “She is committed to developing young women, has been impactful in our community and we are grateful for her dedication. We thank her for 12 years of service to Penn State, and wish Coquese and her family all the best in their future endeavors.”