Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the Home News Tribune on Dec. 14, 1999. It is being republished in honor of John Chaney, who died today at the age of 89.
PISCATAWAY – C. Vivian Stringer and John Chaney have never let obstacles prevent them from sharing ideas.
Whether it was the partition that divided the men’s and women’s basketball courts at Cheyney State, where the legendary coaches began their careers 27 years ago, or the 75 miles that now separates them, Stringer and Chaney have always found ways to discuss strategy.
“I felt that I grew every day from hearing him expound on the game,” said Stringer, in her fifth season as coach of the Rutgers women. “He’s probably the reason that I have been successful. I still talk with him almost every day.”
For a decade, the two were inseparable at Cheyney State, developing mirrored coaching styles. But Stringer and Chaney departed the tiny Pennsylvania college within months of each other, he taking over the Temple men’s program in 1982, and she leaving later for Iowa.
“I really missed him when I went to Iowa,” said Stringer. “He was the person who took time with me and taught me the game.”
Stringer, the third winningest women’s coach in Division I history, bids for her 600th career victory against Texas on Saturday at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. Chaney, who reached the milestone last season, owns a 607-222 career mark.
From their first season together at Cheyney State in 1972, the careers of Chaney and Stringer, like their coaching philosophies, have paralleled. Both have taken schools to a Final Four (Cheyney State went to the Division II championship under Chaney). Both have earned national Coach of the Year honors, and both have winning percentages around .750.
With Temple and Rutgers coming off Elite Eight appearances in the NCAA tournament, expectations were high this season. But both teams recently fell out of the Top 10 with two losses each to lesser-ranked opponents. The coaches, as always, are helping one another through hard times.
“Coach Chaney called up, yelling at me,” said Stringer following a recent loss to George Washington. “He said, `how could you possibly hold a team to 13 percent shooting (in a half), keep them without a basket for 18 straight minutes, and still lose the darn game?”
Stringer has surely gotten more constructive criticism from Chaney after the two exchanged game films, a routine they’ve practiced for years.
“We stay in contact with each other almost daily,” said Chaney. “She’s come down to watch my practice sessions or sends me a tape of hers. We’ve always found ways to sit down and talk about philosophy.”
When Stringer and Chaney coached together at Cheyney State, they would leave the partition in the gym open, eavesdropping on each other’s lectures. The two later integrated practice sessions, setting up stations in the gym for the men and women to work together on skills. The teams eventually scrimmaged one another.
Chaney said he wouldn’t go to a Stringer practice after she was chastised by the media and fans of the Rutgers men’s basketball team for sitting behind the Temple bench when the Owls played at the LBAC last season.
“There was some controversy and some people made some stupid statements,” said Chaney. “It’s very difficult in a situation (like Stringer’s) where you are not your own drummer. I’m pretty well in my own setting and people don’t (mess) with me too much.”
Chaney believes the Rutgers community would not have been so critical of Stringer had it fully understood their 27-year bond. That lifelong friendship transcends the basketball court and is more important than any game.
When Stringer’s husband, Bill, died on Thanksgiving in 1992, Chaney flew through a snowstorm to be by her side.
“One of the toughest things was when her husband passed away in Iowa,” said Chaney. “I went up to the funeral. She was just torn apart. At that moment, I felt that I’ve gotta be with this woman for the rest of my life. She is very precious.”
Chaney was there years earlier for Stringer when her daughter Janine, one of three children, was stricken with spinal meningitis. The disease left her wheelchair-bound.
“I can remember when that happened,” said Chaney. “We were at Cheyney State and every other day she asked me to take over her team. `I gotta run out, Nina has an earache. I gotta go to the doctor.’ This kept going on for about two weeks. `Man,’ I said, `Vivian, you’ve got to take that baby to the hospital.’ She always listens to me. She went and took the baby to the hospital. You are talking about a nightmare from then on. On that day she was unable to do anything. I was told that she wasn’t eating. I went to the hospital her husband couldn’t make her eat so I put her in my arms, and was feeding her just like a baby. I made her realize her baby needs her to be strong. I went through all of this with her.”
Chaney said, “I love her so much. We keep each other laughing and going all the time.”
Lately, most of their conversations center around basketball, and they’ve been heated.
“If you are in our presence sometimes, you’ll hear us arguing, just arguing,” said Stringer. “I have nothing but total respect for him as a coach, but he and I will disagree.”
Stringer has substituted frequently this season and is using a unique rotation where reserves start the game and her better players come off the bench. The formula worked for her at Iowa in 1992-93, when she took the school to a Final Four, but it is one to which Chaney does not subscribe.
If Chaney were coaching Rutgers, Naismith Player of the Year candidates Tasha Pointer and Shawnetta Stewart would be starting, and the top six or seven players would be the only ones on the floor until they fouled out or dropped dead.
“I ain’t no equal opportunity employer,” said Chaney. “You’ve got to play your better players for more minutes than you play your weaker players. Those other kids, they’ve had their chance in practice.”
Chaney said Stringer has to put the ball in the hands of her scorers and stop trying to spread the wealth.
“Everybody’s got a go-to player, and we run the game through him and to him,” he said. “A blind man ain’t got no business being at the circus ’cause he ain’t gonna see bull (manure).”
Stringer said, “We have disagreements about some things, but 90 percent of the time we are on the same page.”
A trademark of Chaney and Stringer-coached teams is their matchup zone. Temple and Rutgers play the defense so well, making switches seamlessly, it appears as though they are in man-to-man.
Some women’s basketball coaches believe the best way to scout Rutgers is to watch the Temple men.
Ranked third in the country in scoring defense (55.3 ppg) last year, Rutgers is seventh in that department this season. Unlike Chaney’s team, the Scarlet Knights are more inclined to press and run, a strategy Stringer picked up when she left Cheyney State.
After watching an Iowa game in the mid ’80s, Chaney called his confidant and said, “My gosh, look at this. What defense are you using?” recalled Stringer. “This full-court press, what’s this all about? Why are you doing this?”
Stringer’s horizons were broadened in more ways than one after leaving the East Coast.
“Coach Chaney really influenced me and I lost that when I went to Iowa,” she said, “but that wasn’t bad. I then listened to other philosophies and studied other people. That’s where I got into this pressing defense and running offense. Had I stayed at Cheyney, we would have been more of a methodical team with very few turnovers.”
The turnover statistic was actually started by Stringer and Chaney at Cheyney State.
“She and I invented it,” Chaney said. “When nobody had it on their stat sheet, we were the first ones to have it. We evaluated our players based on turnovers. We told them, you’re not going to work all week to earn a salary and then give your money to a bum.”
The way Temple and Rutgers are struggling offensively this season (both are shooting around 35 percent), Stringer and Chaney agree their teams must keep turnovers to single digits in every game. Chaney said both teams need more possessions to outscore opponents.
“It’s like a gun,” he said. “You’ve got one bullet. When you pull the trigger, you’ve got one chance to miss. If I’ve got seven bullets in my gun, I’ve got six chances to miss. On the seventh, I’ll get you.”
Because of injuries, especially to stars Tammy Sutton-Brown and Usha Gilmore, Stringer has had to coach harder than ever to help Rutgers fulfill its lofty preseason expectations. The effort has taken its toll.
“I’m tired and mentally exhausted,” said Stringer, following a win over Pittsburgh last Wednesday. “I’ve got to get us together.”
Chaney said, “The kids have got to labor to work with her. She has got to become closer to the kids and keep everybody else out. It becomes frustrating to the kids. They don’t know the answers. The coach knows the answer, but if she can’t do anything about it, she will become more frustrated.”
Chaney would also like to see Stringer change her demeanor in practice.
“If she’s going to be a nice person,” he said, “tell her to get mad, pissed off, and play them kids in my image a mean, nasty, old man.”
Stringer considers Chaney’s input, but won’t always put it into her system.
“We all have people that are mentors,” she said. “You take from them all that you can, and then you have some infusion of your own personality.”
Chaney and Stringer have come a long way (and even met halfway at times) since that partition stood between them at Cheyney State in 1972, but neither has won a Division I national championship.
Stringer hopes she and her mentor can realize that goal in March.
“Our lives tend to parallel each other very much in the successes that we’ve had,” said Stringer. “I hope that he gets to the Final Four, because probably we will get to the Final Four.”