In his first season as head coach, Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault led his new team to a remarkable turnaround from a 5-29 record in 2012 to a 17-17 record the next year. After defeating the Seattle Storm at home 62-59 this past July, Coach Thibault became the head coach with the most regular season wins in league history, surpassing the mark of 211 wins that former Houston Comets head coach Van Chancellor set. Thibault’s regular season record now is at 223-141.
It is also remarkable that the Mystics were able to do this without getting one of the Big Three rookies in the 2013 Draft – despite having the best chances of getting the first pick, but ended up getting the fourth pick instead. And now it’s hard for me to give a rationale for Coach Thibault to win this award without mentioning his GM’ing accomplishments.
The player who he ultimately selected, Ohio State guard Tayler Hill, helped provide some needed perimeter scoring help, mostly in a sixth-man type role where she averaged 6.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game. Hill was not the only rookie to provide significant contributions for the Mystics. Thibault had three additional rookies on the team who played rotation minutes most of the season: Emma Meesseman and Nadirah McKenith – who were second round draft picks – and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, an undrafted rookie. The overall confidence Coach Thibault gave his rookies by letting them play together for many stretches was in stark contrast to Trudi Lacey, his predecessor, who preferred a more veteran-laden lineup.
The one player who brought the biggest impact to DC wasn’t a rookie however, but veteran free agent guard Ivory Latta who was the team’s leading scorer and assister with 13.9 points and 4.4 assists per game. She won three Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors and was also named an All-Star for the 2013 season. In addition, long time Mystics forward Crystal Langhorne was also named an All-Star for the second time in her career, where she averaged 12 points and 7.2 rebounds a game.
Looking at past WNBA Coach of the Year winners
Here is a list of past WNBA Coach of the Year winners:
Year Coach Team Record Previous Season Record Season with Team 1997 Van Chancellor HOU 18-10 N/A 1st 1998 Van Chancellor HOU 27-3 18-10 2nd 1999 Van Chancellor HOU 26-6 27-3 3rd 2000 Michael Cooper LA 28-4 20-12 1st 2001 Dan Hughes CLE 22-10 17-15 2nd 2002 Marianne Stanley DC 17-15 10-22 1st 2003 Bill Laimbeer DET 25-9 9-23 2nd 2004 Suzie McConnell Serio MIN 18-16 18-16 2nd 2005 John Whisenant SAC 25-9 18-16 3rd 2006 Mike Thibault CT 26-8 26-8 4th 2007 Dan Hughes SA 20-14 13-21 3rd 2008 Mike Thibault CT 21-13 18-16 6th 2009 Marynell Meadors ATL 18-16 4-30 2nd 2010 Brian Agler SEA 28-6 20-14 3rd 2011 Cheryl Reeve MIN 27-7 13-21 2nd 2012 Carol Ross LA 24-10 15-19 1st 2013 Mike Thibault DC 17-17 5-29 1st
In addition to the fact that Thibault has won this award three times and has now done so with a second team, one stat that looks concerning is that he has won this award with just a .500 record. Every other winner has done so with a record above that. Only four coaches (Chancellor, Stanley, McConnell Serio, Meadors) have won the award with a sub 20 win season. Two of those coaches (Stanley and McConnell Serio) were fired soon after as their teams could not maintain upward momentum of their teams. Should that be a concern for Thibault?
To me, the answer is no. The big difference between Mike Thibault as opposed to Marianne Stanley and Suzie McConnell Serio is this: Thibault is in his 11th season as a head coach in the WNBA, while the other coaches were not as experienced in the league when they had their jobs. So, even if the Mystics take a step back next year, it’s not like Coach Thibault should be run out of town since we have yet to see how good he can make this team over the long haul.
Also, even though Mike Thibault won the Coach of the Year award, it is arguable that Pokey Chatman of the Chicago Sky or Brian Agler of the Seattle Storm should have won this award instead. Chatman led the Sky to a 10 win improvement over 2012 (14-20 to 24-10) and got the team to its first playoff appearance and appears to be a safer choice based on record alone. And Brian Agler led Seattle to a 17-17 record in a tougher Western Conference without his top two players, Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, who sat the year out due to injury.
Still, I’m biased and am ECSTATIC that the league has given him this award. Mike Thibault deserves this award the most, and this gives the Washington Mystics a much needed and well-deserved national-level honor considering their improvement.
How do you feel about Coach Thibault winning the 2013 Coach of the Year award? Should this award have been split or should have Chatman or Agler won it instead? Sound off in the comments below.
For more on Thibault and other candidates for the award, check out our 2013 Coach of the Year race storystream.