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|Sandy Brondello is a former Sparks assistant and head coach of the Silver Stars.|
There was a time, of course, when WNBA coaching hirings could come not just out of left field, but practically from another galaxy. There have been people brought on to run WNBA teams who not only had never coached women before, they had never coached anybody before.
But with the league now through 17 seasons, the job of "WNBA head coach" is much more clearly defined, and has a far more experienced candidate pool. And the Phoenix Mercury were the first of the three teams needing new head coaches after the 2013 season to announce they'd dipped into that pool and picked whom they wanted.
Sandy Brondello, the Australian who's a former WNBA player and also has a long coaching history in the league, will take the reins of the Mercury. She also was named vice president of player personnel. Brondello replaces Russ Pennell, who finished out this past season after Corey Gaines was let go. The Mercury were 19-15 and lost to eventual WNBA champion Minnesota in the Western Conference finals.
Phoenix made the announcement Friday, leaving Tulsa and Atlanta to still make their hires. Will those come this month, or next? With the Mercury making the first move, it might spur the other two.
For Brondello, this will not be a difficult transition. Her most recent position was an assistant to Carol Ross in Los Angeles. She was previously head coach at San Antonio after being an assistant -- along with husband Olaf Lange -- with the Silver Stars before that.
And Brondello has extensive background as both a player and coach at the international level, too. You'd be hard-pressed to find too many women's hoops coaches who have a greater network of connections across the globe than Brondello and Lang do.
Plus, they already are familiar with coaching Mercury star Diana Taurasi, over in Russia. And Brondello was a past teammate of the Mercury's Penny Taylor on the Australian national team.
It's expected that Brondello and Lange are essentially a package deal. They both have a shared philosophy, but also individual expertise. Brondello, from her playing experience, has a strong insight into the guard position. Lange is known for his ability to really help post players expand their moves and refine footwork.
The Brondello/Lange duo got only one season running the show on the sidelines in San Antonio before Dan Hughes -- who'd moved into a general manager-only role there -- was brought back to fill both the coach and GM positions. But that seemed more a cost-saving decision by Silver Stars management than anything really negative about Brondello's performance as head coach. And she has grown in her knowledge and experience since then.
As for the Tulsa and Atlanta jobs, there are some familiar names in the rumor mill. Michael Cooper, former coach of the Sparks, could be in the mix in Atlanta. He left the Sparks to coach collegiately at Southern California, but it wasn't a very good fit. Recruiting is a far bigger, all-consuming task than Cooper perhaps realized.
It's fair to say that whoever takes the Atlanta job will need to know the best way to work and communicate with "complicated" star Angel McCoughtry. Cooper seemed to handle star players well with the Sparks.
Other names that have come up for both open positions include Seattle assistant Jenny Boucek (who had head-coaching experience at Sacramento). She has been very happy with the Storm, but would be open to becoming a head coach again if the situation is right.
Specifically for the Tulsa job, former Dream coach/GM Marynell Meadors might be in the mix. If she is, perhaps Fred Williams -- her assistant with the Dream who took over as head coach when she was let go during the 2012 season -- might be involved, too. His departure from the Dream was announced last month, after Atlanta lost to Minnesota in the WNBA Finals.
Former Chicago Sky coach Bo Overton -- formerly a college assistant in Oklahoma -- has been mentioned for the Shock job, as well.
Another name that remains in play is longtime college coach Gail Goestenkors, who worked in an advisory capacity for the Sparks this past season. With Brondello leaving L.A., it's at least a possibility that Goestenkors might join the Sparks' staff as an assistant. She might also be someone whom the Dream or Shock have considered.
Goestenkors opted to take a break from coaching when she left Texas after the 2012 season, and she has been refreshed by the time away. She has indicated in the past that if she returned to coaching, she would be open to being an assistant at the pro level, despite her 20 years as a college head coach.
Ultimately, all of the above names are people who have an understanding of what it takes to be successful in the WNBA. That doesn't guarantee anything, but it's indicative of a league with an increasingly stronger imprint on the hoops world.