Niele Ivey finalizes her first Notre Dame staff by bringing back Coquese Washington

A former Notre Dame player and assistant coach, Washtington is back in South Bend after stints at Penn State and Oklahoma.

Notre Dame forward Sam Brunelle takes a shot against Pitt in the 2020 ACC Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)

Coquese Washington has been part of a lot of history in South Bend, Indiana.

As a player for Notre Dame, she helped the Fighting Irish reach its first NCAA tournament in 1992. As an assistant coach under the great Muffet McGraw, she helped the program win its first national title in 2001. And after 13 years away from the Irish, Washington is back to help kick-start the newest era of Notre Dame women’s basketball.

On Wednesday, first-year head coach Niele Ivey announced her coaching staff for the 2020-21 season at Notre Dame, and Washington is back in the fold as an associate head coach. Ivey will be flanked by associate head coach Carol Owens and another assistant in Michaela Mabrey. Beth Cunningham, an assistant under McGraw since 2012, was not retained by Ivey.

“It's an absolute blessing to welcome Coquese back home to Notre Dame,” Ivey said in a statement. “Her experience as a former player and alum, WNBA champion and former head coach, plus her national championship coaching pedigree, provides me with incredible knowledge and wisdom. I am so excited to have her join my staff as we build this new era of Notre Dame women's basketball.”

Washington — who ranks seventh all-time in assists at Notre Dame (554) — is back in South Bend after serving just one season on the staff at Oklahoma, where she was also an associate head coach. Before that, she was the head coach at Penn State from 2007 through 2019, where she was the first African American woman to be a head coach of any sport at the university. Washington won 209 games there and led the Nittany Lions to four NCAA tournaments and three Big Ten titles. She was named Big Ten Coach of the Year three times.

As a player, Washington was the founding president of the WNBPA and helped the Houston Comets win a WNBA title in 2000. The next year, she was coaching Ivey to a national championship as an assistant on McGraw’s staff.

“Notre Dame has always held a special place in my heart,” Washington said in a statement. “So much of who I am can be traced back to my time at Notre Dame both as a student and as a young professional. Being a part of our women’s basketball staff again is truly energizing. I would only leave a program like Oklahoma for one reason – to return home.”

Washington replaces Cunningham on the staff. She too is a former Notre Dame player, twice being named an All-American and is third all-time in scoring. Cunningham joined McGraw’s staff after being the head coach at VCU for 10 seasons.

Notre Dame spokesperson Josh Bates told ND Insider that Cunningham “is pursuing other coaching opportunities,” but Angelo Di Carlo of 95.7 Sports in South Bend reported that “this was not Beth’s decision.”

For Owens, the 2020-21 season will be her 21st season at Notre Dame and her 12th as an associate head coach. She was named WBCA Division I Assistant Coach of the Year in 2019 and has been part of all nine of the Irish’s trips to the Final Four.

A 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, Mabrey will be entering her second season as an assistant in South Bend. She worked closely with Katlyn Gilbert, Anaya Peoples and Marta Sniezek last season. Gilbert and Peoples landed on the All-ACC Freshman team, along with Sam Brunelle.

“(Carol) brings incredible leadership to the staff,” Ivey said. “Michaela's energy, passion and winning mentality speaks volumes. I'm excited to have my staff in place and can't wait to see what we can accomplish together."

While a freshman-laden Irish team stumbled to a 13-18 record and a first-round ACC tournament loss to Pitt in McGraw’s final season, Ivey brings in a 2020 recruiting class that features four players in the top 50 of the ESPNW rankings. Notre Dame might’ve been down last year, but with Ivey at the helm and Washington back in the fold, it won’t be long before they’re jockeying for the ACC crown again.

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