Generally speaking, head coaches lose their jobs when they do not meet expectations, mostly with wins and losses. At this point in the season, here are the two head coaches who I can see losing their jobs at the end of the season.
1. Anne Donovan, Connecticut Sun
Record: 9-24 as of 11:00 AM ET, September 15
Why: Last year, the Sun was 25-9, and was only one win away from winning the 2013 Eastern Conference Championship. The team failed to seal the deal against the Indiana Fever, and Head Coach Mike Thibault was terminated. Hiring Anne Donovan, a coach with a Finals title in hand, should have brought instant credibility to the players and helped keep this team on a playoff track but for whatever reason even after taking into account injuries, things haven’t materialized.
As a Washington Mystics fan, I can see some parallels between the Mystics’ 2010 and 2011 seasons after a coach of a good team left, and with the Connecticut Sun between 2012 and 2013. First, both the Mystics and Sun fell from first to worst in the conference after replacing a head coach who brought their teams to a successful record. Then it looks like the teams in the year after just aren’t buying into the new coach’s philosophy.
There is one major difference though between Anne Donovan in Connecticut and Trudi Lacey in DC from 2011 to 2012. Tina Charles at least didn’t demand a trade soon after Thibault was fired and when Donovan was hired. Lacey saw Lindsey Harding and Katie Smith force their way out of town after she took the job on the other hand. Sun fans certainly hope that Charles doesn’t try to force a sign and trade deal to another team this offseason.
Why not: Connecticut has suffered a lot of major injuries this season like Asjha Jones sitting the year out and Kara Lawson missing many games due to a family emergency. That also compounded any other existing problems the Sun had. Also, it isn’t fair to just fire any head coach after one season simply because of a bad record. Depending on what direction the Sun takes this offseason, we should be able to see just how well Anne Donovan can turn things around, if she keeps her job that is.
2. Gary Kloppenburg, Tulsa Shock
Why: Simply put, the Tulsa Shock should have won more than 11 games this season in my opinion. A 14 to 18 win season was certainly realistic in my opinion. Last year the Shock was really good with defensive pressure. The black and gold was second in the WNBA in steal differential and total steals per game. This year, the Shock is now fifth in steals per game and doesn’t even steal the ball more than opponents. The Shock also still has deficits against opponents in rebounding, blocking, assists, and field goal percentage. When there are deficits in all of those areas, it’s going to be hard to win games.
Why not: Coach Klop’s contract was only two years long, and I think it’s also safe to say that the Shock’s rebuilding process from cellar team to a perennial championship contender would be longer than two years, even from an optimist’s point of view. Hate to use numbers all the time, but here they are.
One major woe the Shock had that was very concerning was rebound differential where opponents grabbed 7.62 rebounds more per game in 2012. That differential has dropped to a 2.86 rebound per game deficit and that’s significant. Then field goal percentage defense has improved from 47.7% in 2012 to 45.1% to 2013. The Shock shot 40.5% both seasons so that’s a differential change from a 7.2% in 2012 to a 4.6% in 2013. Those factors helped the Shock drop point differential from a 6.97 ppg difference (84.21 Opp to 77.24 Tulsa) in 2012 to a 2.24 difference (79.21 Opp to 76.97 Tulsa). From just the numbers, this implies that the Shock did improve considerably in 2013, even if the record only says that the team improved by two wins.
While I wouldn’t lose sleep over Anne Donovan’s termination this offseason, if and when it happens, I don’t think’s it’s exactly fair for Kloppenburg to suffer the same fate. He inherited a very tough job, and I think he should be allowed to see things shape out for 2014.
Head coaches who aren’t in danger of losing their jobs this offseason, but their seats are probably much warmer next season.
These coaches’ jobs are safe. But I personally don’t have a problem with them losing them next season, not because of their coaching, but moreso because of GM’ing. Basically, it’s a classic case of GM’s and Head Coaches in the same body who gravitate too much toward the head coach, not the GM, when they need to do just the opposite. So they could be in a really hot seat in 2014 though it’s not happening for 2013.
1. Bill Laimbeer, New York Liberty – I don’t have a problem with Laimbeer’s coaching as much as I do with his GM’ing. The thing I didn’t get was why he publicly would think that acquiring a number of his former Shock players could result in a better record than last year’s 15-19 team.
Then again, this team was on the “Treadmill of Mediocrity” for a number of years, so I expected that this team would not make the playoffs this season. Also bringing many of his Detroit Shock players on this team may not have resulted in wins, but at least they did set the stage on what he expects his players from hereon to provide in future seasons when they come back to the Garden full time next season.
As the WNBA head coach with more championships than anyone except for Van Chancellor, he does deserve the benefit for now, so we’ll see how the Libs rebuild for next year now that they have a lottery pick for the first time since 2009. Still, I think the leash has gotten shorter on Laimbeer.
2. Brian Agler, Seattle Storm – He is a legitimate candidate for the 2013 Coach of the Year, and I have him in my Top Three with him in third place behind Mike Thibault of the Washington Mystics at #1 and Pokey Chatman of the Chicago Sky at #2. But he just doesn’t get what keeping an eye on the future means, at least to my satisfaction. Really, starting Noelle Quinn over Shekinna Stricklen? That was beyond me, but he did correct that mistake later on.
My problem with Agler isn’t his coaching, he is a good coach. I will go so far to say that this season is his best job as head coach, as opposed to the 2010 season when he won the WNBA Coach of the Year award. But as the General Manager, he is also accountable for the team’s long term future. His GM’ing where he still continued to acquire veterans with little to no upside for a team that must look to the future, and losing his top two players due to injury should have been a wake up call. I just don’t think that Shekinna Stricklen is enough as a foundational piece though she made great strides this year, and Tianna Hawkins arguably should have been in Monumental Red instead of Tayler Hill. In other words, the Storm drafted a player who could have realistically been a lottery pick, and Hawkins should have been a regular rotation player all year long, in particular when I don’t realistically see her playing that much next season if she’s in Seattle that is.
Either way, in 2014, with Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson back, the leash won’t be so long on Coach Agler, in particular if it starts off on the wrong foot, we can definitely look at his GM’ing in the past several offseasons as part of the reason why. I personally could see the Storm winning it all in 2014, but I could also see a season that’s mediocre as well.
3. Fred Williams, Atlanta Dream – The Atlanta Dream started out 10-1 this season and will be the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs in Williams’ first year coaching the team. On the surface, that sounds great, but the Dream was 19-15 last year, and this season, the team’s 18-16 at best AFTER that hot start. Even though you can argue that the Dream should fire him after this season, if ATL gets to the Eastern Conference Finals, or perhaps better, I think that will be enough for him to keep his seat cool at least through 2014.
There is one sore weakness I see in the record books though. The Dream is 4-12 on the road and even if it’s 5-12 to finish the 2013 season, that’s still very bad. This record MUST improve in the 2014 season or we could be seeing the Dream’s owners terminating Coach Williams and replacing him with Julie Plank if and when he loses it.
That’s all I have in regards to coaches that I could see get canned as soon as tomorrow, or maybe later in the offseason, as well as coaches who I think should be on a hot seat. Debate on which coaches could lose their jobs in this offseason below.
Poll Should the Connecticut Sun terminate Anne Donovan after the 2013 season?