Thursday, July 20, 2000
Updated: July 27, 3:37 PM ET
In WNBA, it's 'blame the coach'
By Michelle Smith
Special to ESPN.com
When Nancy Darsch resigned last Friday as coach of the
Washington Mystics, it was less a stunning development than an exercise in
From the moment Chamique Holdsclaw spoke publicly against her coach,
Darsch's days were numbered. When Washington fell to 9-12 at the All-Star
break, it was all but a done deal. Yes, technically Darsch quit. But if she
hadn't, she probably would have been fired.
If there is one truism in the WNBA, it's that when things go wrong --
blame the coach.
Maybe this league really is the fifth major professional sport,
because it's the same way in the NBA, the NFL, the NHL and baseball.
There have been 12 coaching changes on seven teams in the league since
it began in 1997. Of the original eight teams that started four years ago, only Houston's
Van Chancellor and Phoenix's Cheryl Miller remain in their positions.
Los Angeles leads the league with four coaching changes, although it
would appear the Sparks have finally found their man in Michael Cooper.
Sacramento, Cleveland and Utah are all on their third coach.
Darsch's resignation last week was the first replacement of a WNBA
coach this season, which puts the league seriously behind the pace compared
to past seasons.
But Washington has to be considered the biggest disappointment of the
year, a team that has two of the league's biggest stars -- Nikki McCray and
Holdsclaw -- but can manage no better than a 9-12 record, including big
losses to expansion teams Portland and Indiana.
Charlotte would come in a close second because it has been a playoff
team in each of the past three years and as a result, coach T.R. Dunn might
find himself on the at-risk list.
Even in Sacramento, where the Monarchs were a favorite of many to
unseat Houston when the season began, there are grumblings. The Monarchs
have lost three straight and, after averaging 88 points a game earlier in
the season, have scored 62, 64 and 69 points in costly conference
losses to Houston, Phoenix and Utah.
Yolanda Griffith said pointedly earlier this week that the players do
not want to run coach Sonny Allen's spread (or flex) offense.
"Our coach wants us to do certain things and we're not doing it," Griffith said to the Sacramento Bee. "He wants us to execute the flex and
we don't like it."
This may actually turn out to be a quiet year for coaching changes. The
expansion coaches are certainly off the hook, and many of the other
struggling teams -- especially in the East -- can point to key injuries as
the source of their woes.
That and there seems to be a dearth of viable candidates. The top
college coaches are still showing no signs of giving up their big paychecks
and job security to make the leap to the pros, and that means more warm
bodies with NBA experience and nothing to do during the summer.
For all of the hand-wringing we've all done about the league's penchant
for hiring men with pro experience but no experience coaching women's
basketball, for all the insistence that there are qualified women out there
to take these jobs, the big question now is: Where are they?
Around the WNBA
It couldn't have been an easy week for Brandy Reed.
First the Phoenix Mercury standout was left off the All-Star team despite
ranking sixth in the league in scoring. Then a nationally televised protest
by irate Mercury fans prompted league president Val Ackerman to place Reed
on the West squad.
At Monday's All-Star Game, Reed had something to prove to the coaches
who snubbed her and she apparently tried too hard. Despite shooting 50
percent from the floor for the season, Reed turned in a 1-for-11 effort
from the floor.
A very strange sight: Mike Tyson taking his seat at Monday's All-Star
Portland might just end up as the best of the expansion lot after big
wins over Washington and Los Angeles and three wins in five games.
Seattle is on the other end of the spectrum, just because of the numbers. The Storm are 0-4 against fellow expansion teams.
Worthy of note: With all the talk about lagging attendance, consider
this: There were twice as many ballots cast for this year's All-Star team.
Michelle Smith of the San Francisco Examiner is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.