PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Mentor, leader, role model. Coach.
All of those, and more, have been used to describe Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer, who is on the verge of joining an elite group.
With one more victory -- which could come Wednesday when Rutgers hosts DePaul -- Stringer will become only the third women's coach (joining Pat Summitt and Jody Conradt) and eighth Division I coach in men's or women's college basketball to win 800 games.
"Vivian obviously has done great things in this game," said Summitt, who beat DePaul for her 800th victory. "I'm just really proud of her. She's a winner. She's won at every place that she's been at, and she'll continue to win. I know that this is going to be a special moment for her, but she'll keep winning."
Stringer, in her 37th year of coaching, was the first men's or women's coach to take three programs to a Final Four.
"She's a great friend and I have a great deal of respect for the program she's built," former Texas coach Conradt said. "Her 800 wins are very, very impressive. Pat and I did it really at one school each. What's so impressive is that she's done it at three. To do what she's done at three different schools is pretty incredible."
Besides Summitt and Conradt, only five Division I men's coaches have reached 800 wins. Stringer would be the first black coach to achieve the milestone.
"I don't think there's been a better role model," Conradt said.
Stringer got her start in 1973 at Cheyney State, sharing a cramped gym with legendary men's coach John Chaney. She took over a new program and in 12 years there guided the school to the Final Four in 1982.
"She's a special woman. I didn't know what took her so long to get there," Chaney said with a laugh about the 800 milestone. "The girls just look up to her in so many ways. She's been involved in so many different things, fighting for equal rights for women. She helped get Title IX started."
Chaney won't be at Wednesday's game, but expects to be the first call when she eventually gets into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
"There better not be anybody else who should introduce her at the Hall of Fame. Definitely nobody else," said Chaney, who had 741 wins in a Hall of Fame career at Cheyney State and Temple.
After Cheyney State, Stringer moved on to Iowa, where she stayed for 12 seasons, taking the Hawkeyes to the Final Four in 1993 before leaving for Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights have been her longest stop. She took over a foundering program and turned it into one of the best in the nation with two trips to the Final Four in her first 12 seasons.
Not only a coach, Stringer has also been a mentor and inspirational leader to her team. Last season after the Scarlet Knights lost to Tennessee in the national championship game, Stringer handled the ensuing media firestorm generated from Don Imus' sexist and racist remarks with class and grace.
"Players, past and present, look up to her not because of her wins but because of her teaching values," Rutgers senior guard Matee Ajavon said. "I am so happy for her, both as a coach to reach this milestone but also as a woman."
The dignity with which the 59-year-old Stringer handled the Imus situation helped recruit one of her best groups ever with five McDonald's All-Americans headed to Rutgers next season.
Despite all her success, though, each of Stringer's other Final Four seasons were sadly marred by personal tragedy.
When she took Cheyney State to the national title game in 1982, it was the same year her toddler daughter, Janine, came down with spinal meningitis and was close to death several times. The disease left Nina unable to walk and talk and confined to a wheelchair.
Eleven years later, Stringer led Iowa to the Final Four less than six months after her husband, Bill, died of a massive heart attack on Thanksgiving Day 1992.
Finally in 2000, after she took Rutgers to the Final Four, Stringer's son Justin suffered severe head injuries in an automobile accident that Fall.
"She's had to endure so much outside of her professional life," Conradt said. "It's really a remarkable snapshot of what her character is."