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Washington becomes new Penn State coach

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State introduced Coquese
Washington as head women's basketball coach, and turned the
established program over to a career assistant without head
coaching experience.

The 36-year-old replaces Rene Portland, who went 606-236 at Penn
State in a 27-year career but stepped down in March a month after
she and the university settled a lawsuit by a former player who
claimed Portland had a "no-lesbian" policy.

Washington, a successful player at Notre Dame, had been an
assistant to Irish head coach Muffet McGraw for eight years before
getting hired Monday at Penn State. The announcement capped what
she described as a whirlwind courtship that spanned just over a
week.

"When you hear the name Penn State, your eyes are going to get
big, and you think, 'Wow,'" Washington said at a news conference
at Beaver Stadium. "There's something wrong with your heart if
it's not beating right."

Washington played for the Irish from 1989-93, helping the
program to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 1992. She went
on to play in the now-defunct ABL and the WNBA, where she helped
the Houston Comets win the title in 2000 and served as the first
president of the league's Players Association.

"We think she just fit very well with Penn State," athletic
director Tim Curley said. "We have a certain thing here, certain
people can do well here. We have certain values to live by. ...
It's all about fit."

Washington helped McGraw lead Notre Dame to the national title
in 2001 and was instrumental in developing the Irish guards, which
would fit with the "Point Guard U." image that Portland
established at Penn State. Washington is also known as a successful
recruiter.

"It is hard to keep such talented assistants from moving into
the head coaching positions, and we're grateful we had the chance
to enjoy Coquese's abilities for as long as we did," McGraw said
in a statement.

Washington said she was contacted just more than a week ago by
Penn State, and that the Lady Lions job was the only position she
was interested in.

So with her husband, 2-year-old son and mother looking on,
Washington smiled proudly as she was presented with a No. 1 Lady
Lions jersey. She was eager to get to work in the corner office
Portland occupied while leading Penn State to 21 NCAA tournament
appearances in her tenure.

This past season, Portland became the ninth women's basketball
coach to win 600 games at one school. But the program had slipped
to 13-16 in 2005-06 -- the Lady Lions' first losing season in 33
years -- and finished 15-16 in 2006-07.

She was also dogged by allegations from former player Jennifer
Harris.

In a December 2005 lawsuit, Harris accused Portland of
"humiliating, berating and ostracizing" her, and claimed she was
told she needed to look more feminine. The suit alleged Portland
tried to force Harris, who says she is not gay, to leave the team.

Penn State investigated and threatened to fire Portland for any
future violation of the school's nondiscrimination policy. She was
fined $10,000 by the university and ordered to take professional
development "devoted to diversity and inclusiveness."

Portland maintained Harris' departure was related purely to
basketball issues.

Civil rights groups, though, pointed to comments Portland made
about homosexuality dating back to 1986 as signs of long-term
concerns with the former coach.

"I think the university has already tried to show its respect
for all people. That will continue," school president Graham
Spanier said. "We think with our new coach, who is strongly
committed to making sure that all players live up to their
potential and look ahead and stand behind the university values ...
things will be just fine."