by Steve Adubato, PhD

Rutgers Women’s Basketball Coach C. Vivian Stringer is an icon in the world of collegiate sports. She is a great coach with an impressive track record. This past week, Stringer reached an amazing milestone by achieving 900 victories. That is extraordinary. By any standard, Vivian Stringer has been a role model for coaches leading young adults both on the court and off.

However, even the best leaders, including C. Vivian Stringer, can stumble in public under heavy pressure. That’s what makes all of us human, flawed and complex. But the with Stringer that provide an excellent lessons for the rest of us involve the way she communicated in public via the media, particularly in The Star-Ledger as her Rutgers Women’s basketball team continued to struggle and underperform with Stringer falling short of her 900th victory for longer than she would have liked.

In a February 11th article by Star-Ledger sports columnist Dave D’Alessandro, coach Stringer made a series of public statements that demonstrated a surprising lack of discipline in her communication, which also showed shaky leadership under pressure.

When asked by the media about the Rutgers Women’s basketball team losing more games than it was winning and the negative reaction from Rutgers fans, alumni, the media and others, Stringer responded this way; “The only person that matters is Tim Pernetti (Rutgers Athletic Director)…and he knows — he should know — what time it is.”

A great leader knows that he or she must engage more than one important stakeholder, and while the Rutgers AD matters a great deal to coach Stringer, she missed the mark by not communicating the right message to other key stakeholders. Stringer should have known better. But under heavy pressure, she got too defensive and in turn put intense pressure on her boss Tim Pernetti. What did she expect him to say? That he was happy that coach Stringer and her team were underperforming?

Then, when coach Stringer was asked about some of the mistakes that she may have made as a coach, the example of Shalicia Hurns, who she recruited in 2002, was brought up. The coach recruited Hurns from a junior college, who at the time had been thrown out of junior college, arrested twice at Purdue, and when she came to Rutgers, according to The Star-Ledger, “tied up a roommate and terrorized her with a knife.” The coach said publicly that Hurns deserved a “second chance”. As Hurns was ultimately being hauled off to jail, Coach Stringer was quoted in The Star-Ledger saying; “I don’t apologize for anything. I don’t consider it a mistake…every new article is destroying our program.”

“I don’t apologize for anything?” Why not? Coach Stringer is a smart enough leader to know that of course you apologize when you make a mistake. That doesn’t make you weaker, and in fact makes you stronger the next time. Further, the coach seemed to be blaming others for drawing attention to this embarrassing situation for her and this situation at Rutgers. One of the key rules a great leadership is to take responsibility for your actions, and not seek to pass the blame on others.

I just don’t get how someone so experienced, so savvy, so battle-tested as RU Women’s Basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer could be so tone-deaf in this situation. Congratulations, coach, on your 900 victories, but it would have been much sweeter if you had handled yourself with more dignity leading up to it.