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The 2022 WNBA season highlighted the player-to-coach pipeline


Becky Hyman became the first head coach in WNBA history to win a championship in her debut season as head coach. Technically, Van Chancellor did the same in 1997, but that was the WNBA’s first year, and Chancellor had been working as head coach for several years before that, not on a professional level.

After playing in the WNBA, joining Sandy Brondello, Hammon became the second person in league history to win a title as head coach, although Hammon is the first person to do so for the franchise. The player-coach pipeline is something the league has deliberately worked to expand in recent years, and in 2022, that pipeline has had its most pivotal moment.

Half of the 12 WNBA teams this season hired a former player as head coach. The total of six coaches (Brondello, Hammon, Vicki Johnson, Vanessa Nygaard, Noel Quinn and Tanisha Wright) was the most ever in league history; There were 16 teams in the WNBA, but the number of former players who held the head coaching ranks before this season has never exceeded three.

Becky Hyman faced another former player turned head coach in the first round of the 2022 playoffs, Vanessa Nygaard, incidentally assisted by another former player, Crystal Robinson.
Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Two years ago, the league implemented a rule that allowed teams to carry three assistant coaches instead of two, provided one of the coaches was a former player, and Domino’s has been falling rapidly ever since. Of the player’s head coaches in 2022, five of them were previously WNBA assistants, and four have held that role over the past two seasons.

Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve said, “I know for myself, it’s something else in this league that we’ve called as women, as women of color, that we haven’t been able to attribute to a lack of representation over the years. Got it.” “And we had to kick and shout about it and drag it where it is. And it happened fast.”

In her pre-final press conference, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that increasing front office diversity was a priority, and part of that effort has included bringing players into leadership positions.

“One of the things we do at every Board of Governors meeting is talk with our WNBA ownership groups about the diversity of our front office and our back office because we are extremely diverse in player ranks, and again “I’m really proud that we now have six of our 12 head coaches with colors and seven of our 12 coaches are women,” Engelbert said. “I think when I came into the league there were only a few players. So just that constant meditation, and that is the master. The owners are going ahead and making sure their focus is on diversity. ,

Another person who deserves credit for Reeve is Bill Liembeer, one of the pioneers in having former players on his coaching bench. Three 2022 head coaches were assistants to Lamber on the Aces: Johnson in Dallas, Wright in Atlanta, and Nygaard in Phoenix; That doesn’t even include Katie Smith, who earned her first head coaching job for Liberty after learning as an assistant under Limbeer in New York.

Connecticut Suns vs. Las Vegas Aces

Bill Liembeer had three former player assistant coaches in 2021: Tanisha Wright, Vanessa Nygaard and Sugar Rodgers. Two have already become head coaches.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Putting players in those seats on the bench puts them first in line when the head coaching position opens, something Reeve noticed when his male assistants were quickly hunted for the big job.

“With the Lynx. I hired some men, there was a black man, a white man,” Reeve said. “James (Wade) was incredibly qualified when he got the chance. It was a no-brainer It was a great position for him, and look how well he did. But my other assistant coaches weren’t as qualified as many guys, many women. And if the qualifications were as low as they were for that hire, So there were a lot of people qualified for that position, and so I think it was a real eye opener for me. I understand, what I do, you know, but that was a really eye-opener, I have to tell you. I had two men, and I’m going bang, they were able to find opportunities. And so we committed to hiring women. And so did Katie and Planet (Pearson), of Planet College Went into the game, but Katie, Planet and Rebecca (Brunson) are the next guys if the argument is made that James and Walt can get the job so quickly, so let’s see what happens.”

As Reeve waits for her staff to reach her next step, she and the coaches around the league are excited by the women who have already made the leap. Brondello told swish appeal As a former player, it gives him pleasure to see his fellow sisters get these opportunities. Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said it is healthy for the league to have youth coaches who are “open to a lot of ideas”.

Chicago head coach James Wade – who wanted to emphasize that he belonged to this new wave of youth coaches as he was a practice player and is married to Edwij Lawson-Wade, a former WNBA player – thinks That there are coaches who have played with it as well. The players they are coaching build the relationship into a partnership that helps them inspire and bring out the best in their players.

Again, it makes sense that players are similarly on board with this recruitment trend as it helps them connect with their coaches. As of 2022 MVP Aja Wilson told Bleacher Report, “[Hammon] We can relate because she’s been sitting in that locker room before, and she knows how it feels to be in a timeout during a clutch game. Sabrina Ionescu, who is playing under Brondello with Walt Hopkins after two years, shared a similar sentiment. swish appeal,

“I think it’s really helped to just have a coach who’s played at the highest level and how it feels, the practice, when you lose, when you win,” the Liberty All-Star said. “People on the outside don’t really know what it feels like to win, lose, face adversity, even on an individual level, like a player level, dealing with pressure and injuries and that everything you haven’t actually gone through with it.so i guess it definitely helps and just adds why [Brondello]There are so many great coaches in this league.”

Kayla Thornton, who played the last two seasons under Johnson at Dallas, said that in addition to feeling comfortable being coached by VJs, it’s a bright spot for the league to make room for its former players. Considering the financial reality of being a female professional athlete, having a post-retirement retreat is beneficial on several fronts.

“I think it’s cool, especially for women, that we’re able to know that once we’ve played we can even come back, to come back to us and what our teachers taught us. We have another platform to give him back, our coach, and be able to come back to the WNBA and work and still be in the WNBA family,” Thornton said.

The feeling of being part of the WNBA family is part of what brought Hammon back to the league, even as she was working towards earning a head coaching job in the NBA.

“Obviously, the WNBA is home to all of us, and so when we get back in it, it feels like home, it feels natural,” Hyman said after winning 2022 Coach of the Year. “For me, being able to learn under eight years, and arguably the greatest coach ever, helped give me a really good foundation to really come back and give back and not just invest in the WNBA. got rather invested in my players individually, collectively. So it’s been a really fun journey for me. I’ve said this before, but it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made Come here and give coaching to these women.

But when Hyman was set up for success in Las Vegas, with a former MVP in Wilson; three Olympians in Chelsea Grey, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young; two-time former Sixth Player of the Year, Dierica Hamby; And for an owner who invested as much in Coach and the rest of the franchise as possible, other coaches don’t fall into the same safety net.

Johnson is out in Dallas after two years where the president of basketball operations passes coaches like water. Nygaard has faced more odds than any first-year coach in any sport in recent memory, except for the wrongful detention of Brittany Griner, as she had to face a fight between two of her best players. Had to navigate a power struggle, and deal with a former superstar who freaked everyone out. While the team owner was being investigated for inappropriate conduct. Wright and Quinn seem secure for now, but Seattle is also in a precarious position, with only two players under contract for next season.

Las Vegas Aces vs Seattle Storm - Game Four

Noel Quinn has taken advantage of the third assist rule in Seattle by bringing in former Spark and Fever forward Ebony Hoffman on his staff.
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

“I think it’s wonderful for the league. There is tremendous X’s and O’s knowledge by these elite players, and the path to stay in this league is a big one for our league in the long run,” said Connecticut head coach Kurt Miller. “I hope the franchises, our league does the right thing and prepares them for opportunities and doesn’t motivate them before they are ready because if they don’t get immediate success they can suddenly lose. There is no major security in this league. And so it’s really exciting, but, you know, I’m involved. We need to prepare for this next wave of players moving from the court to the coaching sideline. ,

There are currently three head coaching positions open for the 2023 season (Dallas, Indiana and Los Angeles) and potentially another two on the horizon in 2024 if the two expansion teams actually make it to the WNBA. That means greater opportunities for former players to get a shot at the new role.

Hammon has proven that former players can excel at the job when they are given a chance in their first season with a championship, not a Commissioner’s Cup title, an All-Star Game win, and no more. 1 total seed. Quinn had someone playing the Storm as well at the end of the season, and no one would have been surprised if his squad had managed to beat the Aces in the WNBA semifinals. Wright was second in the Coach of the Year voting and players continue to praise him in his rookie campaign.

Their success suggests that the league should have adopted its base of long-form former players. There is no time like the present for a franchise looking for new leadership.

“It’s great to see and you know, frankly, it’s about time,” Reeve said. “We should celebrate it, yes. Also, what should have happened, happens with that. So we have to make sure we keep moving in that direction. And that’s great for everyone. For the players. It’s great to be led by women and women of color. Everyone’s talked about it. You know, I don’t think it’s about excluding anyone. It’s just that there have been so few opportunities , and now we’re finally getting to a place where we’re represented a little more, which is great.”

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