ROSEMONT, Ill. - Pain still grips C. Vivian Stringer's face when she thinks of her time in Iowa City.
The 67-year-old Hall of Fame coach held court at a basement table in a hotel outside of Chicago. Her Rutgers squad enters the Big Ten this year, an immeasurable move for the school and her program. But the emotional toll of facing Iowa every year amounts to collateral damage on a personal level.
Stringer guided Iowa to nine NCAA tournament appearances from 1983 through 1995. Twice she claimed Big Ten titles (1988, 1992) and four times Iowa tied for championships (1987, 1989, 1990, 1993). Her Hawkeyes were ranked No. 1 for eight consecutive weeks in 1988, when they finished 29-2. A 1985 game against Ohio State drew 22,157 fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. For Iowa women's basketball, that era was Camelot and Stringer was the queen.
But her world shattered Nov. 26, 1992 when her 47-year-old husband, Bill, died of a heart attack on Thanksgiving night. Stringer, understandably, was devastated. She had three school-age children, and her youngest son was born in Iowa City. Her husband was an exercise physiologist at Iowa and worked every day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Coach Stringer missed the first five games of that season, which ended in Iowa's only Final Four berth.
Stringer struggled with the situation. She coached one more season at Iowa before deciding she needed a new start.
'It was the pain ... that was the joy of my life, was Iowa,” Stringer said while gathering herself. 'Everything was good to me raising a family happened in Iowa. The people, the program ...”
After moving to Rutgers in 1995, Stringer returned to the state twice for NCAA regionals but neither were in Iowa City. Ten years after Stringer's departure, former Iowa women's athletics director Christine Grant asked her to return for a game. Stringer complied in 2005, and Rutgers beat Iowa 57-51. The teams met against in New Jersey a year later and faced each other in the 2010 NCAA tournament.
Each time she faced Iowa was difficult for Stringer. Now she'll play the Hawkeyes every year. This season they meet just once in Piscataway, N.J. But in the future, they'll have games in Iowa City as conference foes.
'I'm glad I had the opportunity to come back once,” Stringer said. 'It's strange sitting on the visitor's side. I just remember being so stressed out, I can't even tell you.
'I'm glad they're coming here first.”
Stringer enters her 20th season at Rutgers and she has taken the Scarlet Knights to 14 NCAA tournaments, two Final Fours and the 2007 NCAA title game. Her impact on the game is profound. She has compiled a 929-341 record in 43 years and is the first African-American coach - male or female - to reach 900 wins. She was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009 and is the first coach to take three basketball teams to the Final Four.
Stringer still follows the Hawkeyes closely. She recorded a message of congratulations to Iowa women's coach Lisa Bluder, who surpassed Stringer as Iowa's all-time wins leader last year. Stringer also met with current Iowa players before Big Ten Media Day last week and she left a major impression.
'It's crazy how much she loves Iowa, and the impact she has had on this program and it has had on her,” Iowa center Bethany Doolittle said.
'It's really cool to see that connection she has with Iowa,” Iowa guard Melissa Dixon said. 'She loves Iowa and thinks highly of our program and Iowa in general. She's a legend.”
Stringer has two sisters and a brother who reside in Iowa City, as did one of her sons recently. Her love for the community, the program and the state remain evident, a generation after leaving Iowa.
'I was talking to the men's basketball coach at Iowa State,” she said of Fred Hoiberg. 'I was letting him know that I was following him. I always wanted the Hawkeyes to win, but that was my team. From that point, when Iowa was done, I was supportive of Iowa State.
'If you are from Iowa, while you may hate the Cyclones in preference to the Hawkeyes, the truth of the matter is, you always support an Iowan against anybody else in the country.”
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