Coach Coquese Washington took the women’s basketball program and has made it her own, starting off slow but bringing it back up to the level that PSU WBB fans expect, winning the last two regular season conference crowns. She was the longest tenured coach at the DC stop of the caravan.
Though I started the media session gushing over her (attention which she seemed uncomfortable with but was gracious about), we soon got down to business. As I had expected, I was the only one in the room asking her questions about her program as opposed to Coach O’Brien or Penn State as a whole.
On why it’s easy to recruit girls to Penn State:
Once you come to Penn State and you're around the people there--I think it's the people. It's such a community of people who love Penn State, who love athletics, and who support our program, and when our players come on campus they feel that. They feel that energy. It's not a hard sell--come on campus and see if it feels right for you. Thankfully for us it's felt right for quite a few good players.
On the difference in her program now from when she started:
We're winning, so that's good. That's a lot nicer. Winning is fun. I'm glad that our program is at a place where we're nationally competitive and we're experiencing a tremendous amount of support from everybody associated with Penn State, and within the women's basketball community we're achieving a level of respect that's good to have. I'm happy that the program is progressing but we're also very mindful that we've got a lot more that we can accomplish and have room for growth.
On foreign tours for collegiate teams:
It's a great team bonding experience. It's great for the kids to grow outside of athletics and to have an experience that they otherwise wouldn't have. Going overseas and seeing so many different things--it really was a life changing experience for a lot of our players, so we certainly want to do it again if we get the opportunity.
On whom she expects to lead the team next year:
Our seniors. We've got four seniors--Maggie Lucas will be one senior but Dara Taylor is gonna be a senior, she'll be our point guard, our floor general. Ariel Edwards is another senior who's a wing player. She played a lot of minutes for us and she's just a dynamic slashing guard. Finally, our fourth senior is Talia East, who played a supporting role in the post for us. The four of them together I think are ready for the challenge of carrying forward what our departing seniors left the program. They're looking forward to taking that over and keeping us at the top of the conference and pushing us further in the NCAA Tournament.
On how football has an impact on the women’s basketball program:
It affects us, I think, in a fantastic way…Our kids see Coach O'Brien at our games. Our kids see Pat Chambers at our games. We're at their games. So we have a good relationship. It's like they're the big brothers and when they're on campus--the football players and our players--they're friends, they're colleagues, they're comrades. They support each other. And when you're at a big time football school, like we are, it's great because the popularity that they generate--when you're tuning on ESPN and the Big Ten Network and you're watching Penn State football be competitve and Penn State is being so visible, it has such a positive effect on us. We get a lot of recruits that'll send us messages saying "I watched the football team--that was a great win!" And I think vice-versa--when they're out of season and women's basketball is playing well and we're in the NCAA tournament--we all impact each other. So a strong football program really helps us.
When asked if football was a selling point to recruits:
It's not the game that's a selling point. People get to see the Penn State community and they get to see what that looks like and what that feels like for football games, and they'll come up for our games and they'll feel and see the same thing. Penn State, in my opinion, is not like a lot of other places in terms of support that they have for the community, and it's not a 'we just want you to win' and 'we want you to win at all costs,' [it’s] 'We care about you because 'you represent us' and 'we're gonna support you through good times, bad times, we're gonna care for you and open our arms' and there's just a love for giving back. Our alums are giving back--they're passing it down to the next generation. Our university is giving back to the State College and Centre County community…You don't find that level of connectedness everywhere you go and it's really special at Penn State.
[That idea started] hundreds of years ago when Penn State University was founded. It was founded on certain principles. One of those principles was being a part of a community and being a resource in this community and being an agent of change and purpose in the community. That's what Penn State was founded on. Year after year, decade after decade, that essence has never left Penn State--it doesn't matter who comes through and who leaves, but that essence, that ethic of what Penn State is truly about continues to resonate through everybody that's touched by Penn State. It doesn't matter what happens. It doesn't matter how many football games we win or how many football games we lose. That essence that we were founded upon--that we are going to be a university that contributes and that connects and that holds certain things dear to the ethic of who we are--that's resonated since the very beginning and it's why I love coaching at Penn State and why I like being a part of this community.
On Bill O’Brien and what she likes about him:
His determination. He's a very determined guy and he doesn't get caught up in the periphery. He's pretty driven and focused on what we have to do to move forward. He doesn't languish in the possibilities of what could or would or not…He has a determination and a focus and a very positive and charismatic way of moving the program forward and I think we're very fortunate to have him as our football coach.
…He doesn't get caught up in the media--as coaches we get lots and lots of questions from you all the time--but he doesn't let that distract him from his job of molding young men and getting them to come together and be a team that, on Saturdays, can compete with any team in our conference and any team in the country. And that takes a lot of discipline to do that because he's pulled in so many different directions. But anytime I go in his office he's all about this [bang on table for emphasis] is where we are, this [bang] is what we gotta do, this [bang] is where we're going, this [bang] is what we need to do, and he doesn't spend a lot of time on the white noise that surrounds the program.
…As he always says "I'm just a football coach," but he understands that being a football coach at such a prestigious university carries with it a certain platform, and he uses that platform not to just push forward his personal agenda... I think it's great that he's there because he's using it to push forward the agenda for all sports and for the athletic department AND for the university as a whole--and he accepts that. I don't think he's all the way comfortable with it, but he accepts it, and he gives his all and he's very genuine in what he does and what he says. Bill O'Brien is a guy that says what he means and means what he says--so you don't have to ask him two or three or four times--what he said, he meant and what he means, he said.
…At the end of the season he gave me Bill Belichick's book that I read, it was a good read…we talk a lot about leadership. We talk a lot about strategy. He asks me a lot of questions about coaching and gameday, and demeanor and things like that. He's a very bright guy, but he's a sponge and he recognizes that he has a lot to learn as a head coach. He'll ask anybody for guidance. Anything that can help him become a better coach. That's pretty cool that our football coach is willing to engage with the other coaches.
Some highlights of Washington’s portion of the actual caravan event, for those of you not on twitter:
Coach wisely decides to not touch on the NCAA tourney after a jab at the committee for sending them to LSU for the 2nd year #psucaravan— BSD (@BSDtweet) May 2, 2013
Talking about recruiting, Coach is excited about thr 7 new freshmen coming in, two from the DC area #psucaravan— BSD (@BSDtweet) May 2, 2013
Washington asks the fans to fill the stadium this year, and yell mean things at Geno Auriemma when UConn comes to town #psucaravan— BSD (@BSDtweet) May 2, 2013
Coquese says that, what fans can do to help recruiting, is to be more mindful of what we say and how we say it re: complaints on the program— BSD (@BSDtweet) May 2, 2013
Asked about Title IX, coach Washington says where we need to go is in administration and decision-making positions. #psucaravan— BSD (@BSDtweet) May 2, 2013
Once again, thanks to Chad for his transcription help! I think he's ready to play for Coach Washington after all of this...I know I am.