clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Sparks Watch Day 21: Which other candidates could be fits to be the head coach of the Bay Area WNBA team?

So, we're now at Part Three. We'll look at big name candidates and even other outside the box hires, all of whom could be good fits for the Los Angeles Sparks if they move to the Bay Area this summer.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Given the job that Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault did last year under the circumstances, Warriors owner Joe Lacob may want him in the Bay Area where he'd have much more talent to work with, and a better shot at a WNBA championship.
Given the job that Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault did last year under the circumstances, Warriors owner Joe Lacob may want him in the Bay Area where he'd have much more talent to work with, and a better shot at a WNBA championship.
Ned Dishman, NBA Images

You know the drill. Here are various coaches based on what types of jobs they have. Many of them could be splashy hires if Lacob goes in this direction AND can convince these coaches to play for him.

Current WNBA Head Coaches

1. Mike Thibault, Washington Mystics

Why: Thibault is a three-time WNBA Coach of the Year and the coach who has won the most regular season games in league history, mostly with the Connecticut Sun from 2003-2012. Then this past season in DC, he got the Mystics to play very good basketball given the talent he had and ended up at 17-17 for the year, which is a big improvement from 2012 when they were 5-29. It's more remarkable because the Mystics also are the only WNBA team with no players in consideration for the Team USA 2014 FIBA World Championship and 2016 Olympic teams.

Unlike the Mystics where they are multiple years away from contending, Thibault will have a real chance to win right away with the Sparks roster and their players will love playing for him. Lastly, Lacob can afford to get into an all-out bidding war with Mystics owner Ted Leonsis regarding his salary and other benefits.
Why Not: Thibault likes being a GM and he probably won't have that role in the Bay. He also enjoys a great relationship with Ted, where he is often in the owner's suite or even Ted's courtside seats at most Wizards games and talks with him on a regular basis. Then, Thibault does value the opportunity to turn a perennial loser in the WNBA into a perennial winner. He knows what he signed up for.
Will he leave DC if offered the job?: You can make a very strong case that Thibault should apply for this job as soon as the team relocates. But given his relationship with Ted and his desire to turn around the Mystics, he probably will stay in DC.

2. Brian Agler, Seattle Storm

Why: Agler is one of the most respected coaches in the WNBA, where he has led the Seattle Storm to the 2010 WNBA championship. He was also the first head coach of the Minnesota Lynx.

Agler is a coach who doesn't want to build around or play younger players and prefers veteran lineups. The Sparks' core right now is young enough for him to have several chances to do that while putting savvy veteran talent around them. Here's a 2012 article that shows his rationale for building teams that way.
Why Not: Despite winning the 2010 title, the Storm has otherwise been one and done in the playoffs. Even if he wants to blame Lauren Jackson's injuries for many of the early exits, Sue Bird is still a player who should lead a team to at least a Conference Finals "by herself" given her scoring ability.
Will he leave Seattle if offered the job?: Since Karen Bryant is leaving after this year, Agler may also want to leave himself because this team will have to do a Ted Leonsis-rebuild very soon and he doesn't want to be part of those given his preference for veterans at all costs. But Agler does like Seattle and the Storm fanbase, and it would be hard to see him leave, but Lacob can pay him a higher salary than Force 10 Hoops can. Ultimately, Agler's unlikely to leave, but if he wants a big pay raise, he should put his name out there.

Current College Head Coaches

1. Tara VanDerveer, Stanford University

Why: As of the date of this post, VanDerveer has a record 757-158 as the head coach of the Cardinal, where she led them to 11 Final Fours, and two national championships in 1990 and 1992. Also, she will have a chance to get reunited with Nneka Ogwumike who would be on this team. Overall, she has a record of 908-204. At least for regionalization purposes, getting her would attract interest to the WNBA team.
Why Not: Joe Lacob is a season ticket holder of the Cardinal basketball team and a strong supporter of the University. Trying to get her is probably not in the best interest of the program, at least to me.

Finally, college head coaches are always the boss and are used to teaching people who clearly aren't at their peak but could get there at some point. Professional head coaches also need to be able to manage egos better as pro teams should always built around star players, not head coaches. Then, college head coaches of major programs are paid more than pro head coaches in women's basketball. This is a recurring theme for any college head coach.
Will she leave Stanford if offered the job?: I doubt it. And I don't think Lacob will even ask her. But she should still be considered and who knows if she really wants it?

2. Paul Westhead, University of Oregon

Why: Westhead was the head coach of the Phoenix Mercury from 2005-2007, and won a title there in his last season. He also won an NBA championship as the Los Angeles Lakers head coach in 1980. He was also the head coach of the 1989-1990 Loyola Marymount men's basketball team that made the Elite 8 which was one of the most notable Cinderella runs in March Madness history.
Why Not: I often complain about age with players and here is a case where I have to do the same with coaches. Westhead will be 75 years old this summer. Do you want a coach that old to do the job? Even though college basketball is a different animal vs. professional ball, the Ducks haven't been that special in the Pac-12.
Will he leave Oregon if offered the job?: I would say that if he can have some assurances that Parker and Ogwumike won't try to bolt the Bay Area for other teams, there's a good chance that Westhead would leave. But I don't think he's a better option for the Sparks than Ross.

3. Lindsay Gottlieb, University of California, Berkeley

Why: Gottlieb is one of the rising star women's basketball head coaches in the country, where she has a 70-18 record in her third season with the Golden Bears in her third season as of the date of this post. Under her leadership, Cal made the Final Four in 2013, the first in program history. Her overall record is 126-57, which includes three seasons as the head coach at UC Santa Barbara from 2008-09 to 2010-11.
Why Not: We can copy and paste the second paragraph on why VanDerveer shouldn't be the Bay Area WNBA team head coach. But Gottlieb is still very early in her coaching career establishing her presence, and the 2013 Final Four appearance was pretty much done with the previous head coach Joanne Boyle's recruits, not hers. To be fair, Gottlieb was actually on Boyle's staff at Cal before taking the UCSB job, so she has familiarity with the program.

Even then, if she was the head coach of the Bay Area WNBA team, Gottlieb would be the youngest coach in the league, AND with no WNBA playing or coaching experience which other younger coaches, like Stephanie White have. That could create conflict with some players if they believe that Gottlieb is "over her head."
Will she leave Cal if offered the job?: I don't think she will and the chances of her getting interviewed would be less than pretty much every other college head coach on this list because she has no WNBA experience. But that's not a bad thing, since I do think that the future of the Golden Bears basketball program is in very good hands with her leading the way.

4. Geno Auriemma, University of Connecticut

Why: Auriemma is widely regarded as the best women's basketball head coach out there right now. He won eight national championships, all in the 64 team NCAA tournament era. And he also coaches WNBA players right now. He was the Team USA head coach for the 2010 World Championships and 2012 Olympics. He'll do so again for the 2014 WC and 2016 Olympics. So FIBA competition is his pro experience.
Why Not: Auriemma would likely have to take a pay cut to leave UConn for a WNBA team. And he appears to relish being the top dog of a program more than most college coaches. He won't be the top dog for any WNBA team because star players ultimately run the show, especially if the team is a contender.
Will he leave UConn if offered the job?: Very unlikely that Geno leaves for any WNBA team, especially when he gets to coach only the best pros for the Olympics. Just like Coach K does the same for men's basketball. But it's still worth discussing him.

Other Coaching Candidates

1. Corey Gaines, Assistant Coach, Player Development, Phoenix Suns

Why: Gaines has been with the Phoenix Suns since the 2010-2011 NBA season in this role where he works with individual player workouts and he has been lauded by former head coach Alvin Gentry and is still on the staff with current head coach Jeff Hornacek who has led a team widely expected to be an NBA doormat into a team that is well in the playoff picture right now. Here is an article from Sam Amick of USA Today where Hornacek praises his coaching staff's anti-tanking mentality given preseason expectations:

"We basically told (the Suns players), we said 'Hey, five of the six coaches on the bench are ex-players," Hornacek said, referring to former NBA players Jerry Sichting, Kenny Gattison, Mark West, and Corey Gaines and former college player Irving Roland. "The one guy that doesn't have the playing experience helped coach an NBA championship team in Boston (Mike Longabardi), and then we've got players. None of us want to lose.' So we emphasized Play Hard, Play Together. We'll win our fair share of games, and there will be no laying down for any of us. We're too competitive."

For the purposes of this site however, Gaines was the Head Coach for the Phoenix Mercury from 2008-2013, where he won a championship in 2009 which also helps his resumé here. He then took the General Manager position as well after Ann Meyers Drysdale relinquished it in 2012.
Why Not: Without his 2009 championship season, Gaines is just a mediocre head coach based on wins and losses. And he didn't do a good job for the 2013 season which is worth its own post and we also talked about Sammy-gate a lot in the comments.
Will he leave Phoenix if offered the job?: I doubt it. Gaines would probably rather try to see how far up he can get in the NBA coaching ranks. Given that he is still with the Suns organization after having some of his responsibilities taken away from him last year, namely the Mercury head coach and GM positions, it does show that they value him in his current capacity if nothing else.

2. Gail Goestenkors, former Head Coach, University of Texas

Why: Goestenkors, a/k/a Coach G is better known as the former Head Coach of the Duke University Blue Devils, where she built a program that was a meddling ACC team to a national power. The Blue Devils also made four Final Fours in 1999, 2002, 2003, and 2006, and made the championship game in 1999 and 2006. And her name is always in the mix for every major women's basketball head coaching position.
Why Not: Coach G has never coached a WNBA team before. Coaching players in their mid 20's to 30's is not going to be the same as coaching players who are 18-22 years old. Also at Texas, she never was able to replicate the success that she had at Duke and never got past the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament after her first season there while other Texas programs like Baylor and Texas A&M won national titles.
Will she take the job if offered?: Since Coach G was in position to take the Ohio State job last year until negotiations fell through, I think that she has some urge to get back into coaching. But she also probably would rather take a college job if another major opening comes about rather than the pros. So if she really wants the job and thinks that her options are running low, she may take it. But otherwise, she will probably wait for a major opening at the college level.

3. Marynell Meadors, former General Manager and Head Coach, Atlanta Dream

Why: Meadors was the first basketball operations leader for the Dream where she led a 4 win team in their first season in 2008 to two straight Finals appearances in 2010 and 2011.
Why Not: Age is one major reason since she is over 70 years old. Another reason is surrounding the circumstances of why she was terminated midseason in 2012, soon after the Olympic break, where she was an assistant on the Team USA basketball team. And her top star, Angel McCoughtry was also on that team. The Sparks roster has a superstar on it already, and another frontcourt mate who could also play close to, if not at that level. Not being able to manage or work well with a superstar is something that is a red flag.
Will she take the job if offered?: I don't think she will since she may not be a serious candidate as compared with Mike Thibault or Brian Agler. But who knows?

So that's all I have. Which of these remaining candidates could be high on Joe Lacob's list? Sound off in the comments below!

UPDATE: 5:40 PM ET - So, this list certainly isn't exhaustive and it is meant to be speculative.

So, I added a write-in vote option for the poll. In terms of outside the box hires, we could see Jennifer Azzi, Cynthia Cooper, or Teresa Weatherspoon, all college coaches be in consideration for the job here and they were all WNBA players. Cooper was also the Mercury head coach in 2001-2002.

And even though I don't think that Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx would be the first big name in consideration, could she be in the mix? That then opens up Lin Dunn and Bill Laimbeer as candidates too. But if you are leading this search, and with the assumption that Ross isn't your choice for head coach, who is your top target? Again, let your voice be heard in the comments below!