April 16, 2012
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Head Coach Coquese Washington
I normally don't give an opening statement, so this is different territory for me, but there are definitely some things that I wanted to share prior to taking questions. As you guys know, there has been some interest from other universities with regard to me and their women's basketball head coach position. But, what many of you may not know or may not be aware of is Dave and I have been talking well before those calls came about my future here at Penn State. I love it here at Penn State, I really do. I really love being at Penn State. I love what my life is like here. I love what my family's life is like here. This is a tremendous community to raise a family in. The decision to stay here at Penn State, for me, was really a simple one when I look in the back of that room and I see those player's faces, they are fantastic, tremendous young women and representatives of this university. What they have helped this program accomplish in the past five years is remarkable. It is really remarkable. The opportunity to be with them, to work with them and to continue to elevate this program is something that I could not and would not walk away from. I came here five years ago in large part because of some things that I think are unique to Penn State; the marriage of academic and athletic success, but probably more importantly the community, the family, the commitment to service. Those ideals in the past five years have done nothing but grown in me and when I think about what my future is and what I want my future to be about, I want my future to be about being around people who embrace those ideals in a strong way and that's what Penn State has shown me in the past five years. Certainly we have some challenges ahead of us, but when I look at the leadership, President (Rodney) Erickson and Dave Joyner and the administration, both the academic administration and athletic administration, the people here have a commitment and a vision and a direction for the growth of this program that is inspiring and energizing for me and I want to be around people like that. Somebody who I respect very well told me that "you don't run away from fires, you have the courage to run into the fire and make a difference." And, I want to be at Penn State and help make a difference. I want to be around people that want that same vision and continue to work to grow Penn State and continuing to work to be excellent is just inspiring to me. So, all of the speculation and things that were going on in the past week did nothing more than to make me realize how privileged I am and how blessed I am to be at Penn State University, at this time, at this moment. I want to be here at this time and at this moment to continue the work that all of the fantastic people that are part of Penn State are doing. I'm blessed to have this opportunity and I look forward to continuing to do that work that we have to do.
Q: Were there any doubts about your status at this university during the negotiations with Penn State and if so, why did you decide to interview at Michigan?
A: There were no doubts for me at all, but certainly Michigan is an outstanding academic and athletic institution. It is my home state, it's 45 minutes from my dad's house. But again, home is where your heart is and my heart is here at Penn State and there is a direct flight from Detroit to State College, so my dad can come to our home, my family's home, anytime he wants.
Q: Can you talk about your thought process after visiting Michigan and what reinforced you wanting to stay here?
A: No question, two big things. Number one, our team and certainly our players, but also the staff that we work with on a day-to-day basis; the assistant coaches, the strength and video and director of basketball, all of those people that help make Lady Lion basketball go. They're a fantastic group. They're energized. They want to be great and we've done so many things together that that's my crew and I wanted to remain with them. The second thing was the leadership here at Penn State. No question, it was the leadership from the top down. I feel very strongly that I'm surrounded by driven and passionate people who have a strong passion for Penn State and being able to work with those people on a day-to-day basis certainly contributed to me wanting to be here for a long time.
Q: Are you going to be on the Coaches Caravan list?
A: I am going to be on it, yes.
Q: Did Michigan offer you the job?
A: I have a lot of respect for the University of Michigan and I know they're in the middle of filling their position and I know what those searches are like. So, I'm not really going to comment on the status of that, because again, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Michigan and what they're going through at this time.
Q: How did you keep the team updated on your status here?
A: They weren't a part of it. We didn't talk about it. We talk about what's important for our team and all of this stuff wasn't a part of our commitment to what we have to do on the court and our commitment to what we have to do in the classroom and our commitment to what we have to do to serve our community. This didn't impact that at all. We don't spend time talking about stuff that's not really that important. When it was time to talk about it, we had very quick, brief conversations about it and got back to the business of becoming champions.
Q: Why did you decide to put the speculation to rest?
A: Because I didn't want it to become a distraction for the program, for the university. Also, it's been interesting because I've received just a tremendous amount of support from people over these past few days, from alums and faculty and staff and fans and in the community, and I wanted them to understand and to know that I'm committed to the Penn State family and I'm committed to being here and I want to be here and I'm their coach. I didn't want this to be something that people would continually question, where my loyalty and where my commitment is. My commitment is to Penn State and that's it.
Q: Was part of your decision making process that you didn't want to run out on a tough time for this university?
A: Let me answer that by saying this: I think the United States of America is the greatest country in the world, and this country has certainly had its moments where we had to look at ourselves and challenge ourselves. So, you have a Martin Luther King, Jr., who holds a mirror up to our society and says, "Is this the best that we can do for people of color?" And you have a Susan B. Anthony and an Eleanor Roosevelt who holds a mirror up to our collective conscious and says, "Is this the best that we can do for women?" And Marian Wright Edelman who will say, "Is this the best that we can do for children?" And when I look at Penn State, what I've seen over the past few months is a community that has come together and held a mirror up and we've asked ourselves, "Is this the best that we can do for Penn State?" And one of the reasons America, in my opinion, is one of the best countries in the world is because we ask those tough questions of ourselves and we grow from them, and we don't shy away from asking those tough questions of ourselves and how we can be a better country and the best country in the world. When I look at Penn State and see us doing that same thing, I see a university that is going to elevate itself because we're willing to look at ourselves, examine ourselves, at a time, maybe not our best time, but we're willing to say, "Is this the best that we can do for Penn State alums? Is this the best that we can do academically? Is this the best we can do for the community that supports us so well? Is this the best that we can do for higher education in the country?" That inspired me. That inspired me to be here and to stay here and to make myself and this program the best that it can be because we're around people who take that challenge head on and we're going to be better because of it. So, to answer your question, absolutely it was a consideration, absolutely.
Q: How important is it for you to be here to see the growth of this program continue through to the championship level and your goals going forward?
A: It's very important, it's very important. Again, I look at those young ladies in the back of the room and they came here to put this program on an elite level. That was their focus. They came here on faith and we talk about that. At the time when I was in their living rooms recruiting them, they didn't have any reason to believe that Penn State could be a program that could be ranked in the top 10 in the country. No reason whatsoever. But, they came here on faith. They had faith in themselves. They had faith in each other, their future teammates. They had faith in this university that the university would provide the support and the leadership and the comfort that they would need to elevate themselves to greatness. They believed that and I believed that. That's why I came here. I believed that we could do that. Together, we're going to work to finish it out. Together, we're going to do that.
Q: Did going to Michigan restore your faith as to making you realize you're in the right place?
A: Absolutely. It definitely reinforced for me, and this is no slight to Michigan or any other program, but it reinforced for me that Penn State is the perfect place for me because of the values and the goals and the vision and the leadership that's in place here. It's a wonderful marriage for me. As they said earlier, it's not about the money, it's about being in a place where you feel like you can grow as a human being and become the best that you can be as a person and I feel strongly that Penn State is that place for me. I think I can become a better mom because of being at Penn State. I can become a better wife because I'm here at Penn State. I certainly will become a better coach because of the people I'm surrounded by here at Penn State. So, it's just the best place for me to grow and become the person that I want to be both on the court as a professional person and as a human being.
Q: Coach Paterno had the opportunity to leave Penn State. He slept on it and decided to stay. Is that happening to you or was there that kind of struggle for you?
A: I wouldn't say it was a struggle at all. But, if I could put myself in Coach (Joe) Paterno's shoes, in a sense, I think sometimes to be sure about something you have to compare it and there's no shame in that. You know, it's like sometimes you realize you've got a great husband when you look at other people, and I've got a great husband and I've looked at Walt (Moody) and I realize that I've got a great husband. (laughter) It's no disrespect to Michigan or any other university. Like I said earlier, 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.
Acting Director of Athletics Dr. Dave Joyner
Let's keep this press conference in context. We all have our hearts and prayers and love going out to the Warming family with the terrible tragedy that befell them yesterday. So, I just want us all to remember that as we're here today. With that, I'd just like to also say that President (Rodney) Erickson wanted to be here today very much so, but he's in Washington, D.C., at the Council of Presidents and Chancellors meeting for the Big Ten. So, he could not be here but he wanted every to know that he's here supporting us and supporting Penn State and the Lady Lion basketball program. With that, there has been a lot of talk in the last few days about our Lady Lion basketball program and our great coach here. Coquese (Washington) and I wanted to have this press conference today to just let everybody know how firmly we continue to be committed to each other and that Penn State and Coquese are going to have a long history together continuing on. She's a great basketball coach. She has spent the last five years building this program back up to a tremendous success, with a Sweet 16 run this year, a top nine finish, Coach of the Year honors, multiple individual honors and we're just so proud that she's here and that she is continuing her commitment to Penn State to help lead this great university forward, particularly at this time in our history and I can't think of a better person to help lead us forward than Coquese. So, thank you coach.
Q: What is the current status of Coach Washington's contract here?
A: She still has a contract. First, I want to say that Coach Washington did not stay because of a contract or not a contract and she has made that very clear. Her reasons for staying are not because of that, it's for the reasons that she has talked about. We always look at coaches' contracts and we're always continually looking at them so she will be well cared for, let's say that, and we fully intend to keep her here for a long, long time.
Q: How important was it to make sure Coach Washington continued with the program here?
A: Coquese is one of the great coaches in the country and she's one of the great coaches at this university and she's a great person. The importance of having someone of her caliber around our student-athletes and our people here, she's talked about it of being part of this culture that has a great heart, and she has the heart of a lion. So, having her here for the whole university, not just the basketball program, for the whole university and what she represents is so important to what this university is all about and so important particularly at this time that I couldn't say enough about her and enough about how I feel about her and working with her and how proud and honored I am to be able to be associated with this great women's basketball program, as well as every part of the athletic program here at Penn State.
Q: Were you concerned that this might go against Penn State at all when you granted Coquese permission?
A: Well sure, you're always concerned. But, I told Coquese, we sat and talked and it's kind of funny to say she needs my permission. She was respectful enough to ask me. We had a talk and I said, "You can go to Michigan but you're not allowed to listen to them." But, I said, "It's a great compliment to us that somebody of the caliber of Michigan wants you to come out and talk to them. So, obviously somebody did something right here and made a great decision when you came in the first place." And so I said that, "I'm very proud of you, and I'm not surprised that Michigan wants to talk to you." I did say to her, I said, "I really, truly hope that you go out here and don't listen to them and decide not to go." So we had that kind of conversation. So that's kind of how it went. I didn't have any ropes in the office at that point so I couldn't tie her up.
Q: Looking ahead here, how much of a spokeswoman can Coquese be in rebuilding the university's image?
A: Well, I think I've kind of eluded to that when I was talking earlier about why we're excited, and I'm particularly excited that she's staying here, because it's not just about basketball. It's about what this place really means and what it really is. And yes, was there a terrible problem? Of course there was. Will that terrible problem go away? No. But, it's how you react to it and how you come out of it. We even talked about the legend of the phoenix where you rise from the ashes and become stronger and greater than you ever were before something bad happened to you. Coquese and I had that talk. She's the kind of person that would be very strong in helping this university rise like the phoenix. I think that's a very, very important part of what she means to this university and what her staying here will mean.
Sophomore guard Maggie Lucas
Q: What was it like for you guys when you heard on Twitter and on the internet that she interviewed somewhere else?
A: You hear a lot of things online. A lot of things are said about that are not always true. You've just got to wait and see. You don't really want to freak out too soon until you've heard it officially from your coach's mouth. So, we try not to let that stuff really drive us crazy.
Q: How close were you following it?
A: I read the article, like the first one that came out. I got a whole bunch of texts and everything. I just was like stuff like this happens, coaches go and interview at other places. That's part of sports, you know. It's a part of it. I just wasn't about to freak out until I heard what was actually happening.
Q: How has she impacted you as a player?
A: An unbelievable amount. As a player, I've been able to add so much to my game because she has gotten me a position coach like Fred Chmiel. As a person, she cares about us not just as players, but as making us better people and better women going out once we're done playing college ball and, you know, she's been helping us with that ever since we got here.
Junior guard Alex Bentley
Q: How excited are you to keep this process and program going into next year?
A: I'm very excited. We're all pumped and ready to go. We've been in the gym since our last game. So, we're working hard and we know that we're going to try just to have a great, successful season next year.
Q: How close did you follow all of the developments with Coquese?
A: I actually didn't really worry about it too much. I guess that comes with that trust thing that we've been talking about. I just trust in Coach Quese and I've got faith in every decision she makes.
Q: What does it mean to you guys as a team and as a program to have her?
A: Coach Quese is amazing. She's one the reasons my teammates and I came to Penn State. She's very genuine. She's down to earth. She cares about us and we care about her too, so we're really, really excited and happy to continue on with our journey with her.