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Pat Harty: Bluder does it her own way

[ 0 ] February 10, 2014 |

To surpass Vivian Stringer in anything related to coaching women’s basketball is a major achievement, no matter how long it takes.

Lisa Bluder earned that rare distinction Monday night by winning her 270th game as the Iowa women’s basketball coach.

Stringer had been Iowa’s all-time winningest coach, compiling 269 victories during her 12 seasons on the job from 1983-95. She actually had shared the top spot with former Iowa men’s basketball coach Tom Davis, who also won 269 games during his 13 seasons as coach from 1986-99.

Bluder is in her 14th season coaching the Hawkeyes, so you could argue that her moving into first place is sort of deceiving because she did it in 433 games, while Stringer coached only in 353 games at Iowa.

But why bother arguing about two great coaches?

Why dwell on the negative when there is so much positive energy surrounding their two legacies?

Stringer and Bluder are proof that success can be achieved at the same place, but with using different approaches.

Stringer was a coaching pioneer when she arrived at Iowa 30 years ago. She grew up in Pennsylvania and was one of the few African-Americans, man or woman, coaching at the time.

She actually used it to her advantage, though, because many young African-American women were drawn to Stringer and wanted to play for her at Iowa. Her teams at Iowa were predominantly black and had players from all over the United States who excelled on and off the court.

Stringer built a recruiting pipeline to the East Coast and to Chicago and routinely signed some of the top prospects in the country.

Only once during Stringer’s 12 seasons as coach did Iowa finish below third place in the Big Ten. She also led Iowa to six Big Ten titles, to two NCAA Tournament Elite Eight appearances and to the NCAA Final Four in 1993.

Her teams finished a combined 50-4 in the Big Ten during a three-year stretch from 1986-89.

Stringer built an empire in Iowa City, but it started to crumble following the death of her husband Bill Stringer from a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day in 1992. The Iowa players rallied behind Bill’s death to advance to the NCAA Final Four that season, but the strain of losing her husband so unexpectedly crushed Vivian emotionally.

She eventually decided that she needed a change of scenery and left Iowa after the 1994-95 season to coach at Rutgers in New Jersey where she remains today. Stringer is comfortable living on the East Coast. She’s near many of her relatives and it’s where she grew up.

Bluder, on the other hand, is an Iowan in every sense of the word, remaining in the state while carving her trail. She grew up in Marion, played basketball at Northern Iowa and has coached at St. Ambrose, Drake, and now Iowa.

Bluder hasn’t achieved the same level of success that Stringer had at Iowa, but Bluder has maintained a level of consistency that’s worthy of praise.

Iowa is the only Big Ten team and one of just 13 nationally to have appeared in each of the last six NCAA Tournaments. That streak is likely to become seven in a row with the Hawkeyes at 19-6 overall and 7-4 in the Big Ten with Monday’s victory over Northwestern.

Unlike Stringer, Bluder has recruited mostly in the Midwest. Iowa’s current roster has three players from instate, three from Minnesota, two from Illinois, one from Wisconsin, and one each from Nebraska and Ohio.

And while Stringer was used to having former high school All-Americans on her rosters at Iowa, Bluder has relied more on mid-level prospects, with an occasional prep All-American like current point guard Sam Logic sprinkled in.

The Iowa women’s basketball program has been around only since 1974 and has had just five coaches. The program finished with a losing record in seven of the nine seasons before Stringer was hired.

Three of the coaches — Lark Birdsong, Judy McMullen and Angie Lee — failed on the job and were replaced. Iowa finished 27-4 in Lee’s first season as coach in 1995-96, but that was with Stringer’s recruits.

Lee, a former player and assistant coach under Stringer at Iowa, lasted only five seasons before being replaced by Bluder in 2000.

It’s easy to take Bluder for granted when you compare her to Stringer. But instead of comparing them, Iowa fans should thank them both for building a tradition in their own unique way.


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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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