Coquese Washington returning to Notre Dame

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Rookie head coach Niele Ivey’s first Notre Dame women’s basketball staff will feature an Irish alum who owns a dozen years of highly decorated Big Ten head coaching experience.

Ivey announced Wednesday evening the hiring of Coquese Washington, whose previous go-around as an ND assistant included the 2001 national title season — when Ivey was the team’s point guard.

Washington joins retained assistants Carol Owens and Michaela Mabrey. Washington and Owens will each hold the title of associate head coach.

“It’s an absolute blessing to welcome Coquese back home to Notre Dame,” Ivey said in a news release issued by the school. “Her experience as a former player and alum, WNBA champion and former head coach, plus her national championship coaching pedigree, provides me with incredible knowledge and wisdom.”

Washington fills the spot previously occupied by Beth Cunningham, whose departure from the program was made public on May 18.

“Notre Dame has always held a special place in my heart,” said Washington, who completed her Irish playing career in 1993 and added a law degree from the school in 1997.

“So much of who I am can be traced back to my time at Notre Dame both as a student and as a young professional,” Washington said. “Being a part of our women’s basketball staff again is truly energizing. I would only leave a program like Oklahoma for one reason — to return home.”

Washington joined the Sooners as an assistant just last year.

Prior to that, she was head coach at Penn State for 12 seasons, compiling a 209-169 record with four NCAA Tourney appearances, three straight Big Ten regular-season titles (2012-14) and two Sweet 16 advancements (2012 and 2014).

Washington earned conference coach of the year honors in all three of those title-winning seasons, was the Black Coaches Association Female Coach of the Year in 2011 and 2014, and was a finalist for WBCA national coach of the year in 2012 and 2013.

She signed six McDonald’s All-Americans during her Nittany Lion tenure and had four recruiting classes ranked in the top 25. PSU had landed just one McDonald’s All-American prior to Washington’s arrival.

As a player, Washington helped Notre Dame reach its first-ever NCAA Tournament when she was a junior in 1992. She was a co-captain that season and again the following year.

Washington’s career average of 2.7 steals is still a team record. She also dealt 554 assists, which ranks seventh in Irish history.

Washington went on to play six seasons in the WNBA, winning a league title in 2000 with Houston.

She is the founding president of the WNBA Players Association, serving from 1999 to 2001, and led negotiations for the association’s first collective bargaining agreement.

Washington’s WNBA career and her time as an Irish assistant overlapped, as she was part of coach Muffet McGraw’s staff from 1999 to 2007. Over those eight seasons, she helped ND to four Sweet 16 appearances and eight consecutive top-25 recruiting classes.

McGraw announced her retirement as Notre Dame head coach after 33 seasons on April 22.

Ivey was named her successor the same day. She’d been an ND assistant for 12 years before leaving last year to become an assistant with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.

Owens is entering her 21st season as an Irish assistant and Mabrey, a former ND player, her second.

“Carol has uniquely been a part of all nine of the program’s Final Four appearances and brings incredible leadership to the staff,” Ivey said. “Michaela’s energy, passion and winning mentality speaks volumes. I’m excited to have my staff in place and can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together.”

The Irish are coming off a 13-18 season, but will return their top five scorers next season in addition to welcoming a recruiting class ranked No. 3 by ESPN.

In this Nov. 17, 2013 game in State College, Pa., then head coach Coquese Washington talks with Dara Taylor (2). Washington is returning to Notre Dame as an assistant coach.