Don Zierden saw the writing on the wall in April. I just didn’t expect him to be the type of person to raise a white flag in the line of fire.
We spoke prior to the WNBA draft of how tough the league was going to be this season, especially in the Western Conference where in three seasons he’d only accumulated a 26-42 record with Minnesota. His Lynx were young, he couldn’t attract any of the top free agents during the offseason to get experience and the organization has long struggled to draw crowds, always rumored to fold or relocate.
But Zierden (pictured right by NBAE) said the Lynx on the court were headed in the right direction.
Tuesday night, however, he snuck off with the keys and bolted to Washington to serve as an assistant coach for the Wizards under buddy Flip Saunders. The why is obvious, although you can’t put “stability” and “NBA” in the same sentence when you’re a coach, either. Yet, there’s money and history. Zierden’s roots are with the men’s league, serving under Saunders twice in Minnesota and Detroit.
Lynx fans never really warmed to Zierden, but he was one of the better coaches to speak with pregame. It’s just a shame that respect looses some luster when there was no need to leave Minnesota five days before the WNBA season begins. If anyone should be hustling out the door, it’s Los Angeles coach Michael Cooper, who accepted a position at Southern California, needing the summer to recruit. Instead, he has a staff handling those duties and will resign at the end of the Sparks season, probably draped in the championship bling Zierden already knew he wouldn’t win.
Zierden was on thin ice to show something with a talented team and apparently took the easy route out. Seriously, NBA coaches are taking vacations and getting ready for the draft right now. It’s nothing too pressing that couldn’t be worked around during the WNBA season if Zierden wanted to honor his contract, in my opinion.
The positive is Zierden’s replacement, former WNBA player Jennifer Gillom. She’s the sixth female head coach in the 13-team league and only black woman. Gillom was popular as a player in Phoenix and assistant coach in Minnesota. She’ll at least keep some consistency as the Lynx grow.
“I want to thank Don for the time and effort he put in to prepare me for this tremendous opportunity — I’ve learned so much from him,” said Gillom at her press conference today. “I also want to thank Glen Taylor and Roger Griffith for their steadfast commitment and belief in my coaching abilities. I’ve learned under some of the legends of the women’s game: Kay Yow, Van Chancellor, Cheryl Miller, Nancy Lieberman, Katrina McClain… They’ve all prepared me to become a head coach in the WNBA. It’s always been my goal to be a head coach in the WNBA and to achieve that in Minnesota is a dream come true. We have so much talent here and I truly believe the sky is the limit for this team.”
I wish Zierden the best. On numerous occasions, he thanked me for covering the WNBA. He won’t answer calls for reporters now and may be more about why he felt comfortable to leave now could be revealed later, but as of today, I just wish he would have found a better road to bow out.