WNBA; Meet the Female Head Coaches
The Women’s National Basketball Association is the premier professional women’s basketball league in the U.S. Established in 1996 it began with 8 teams
Jumping forward to 2019 and now in its 23rd season, the league has 12 teams and includes the regular season, the WNBA All Star Game, WNBA Playoffs and the WNBA Finals.
There is of course, still a a lack of female coaches in the Game. This year, out of the 12 teams, only 5 have a female head coach – that’s less than 42%, which is one lower than last season at 50%. In fact, it’s one lower than ten years ago.
Why does the media seem so focussed on female coaches in the NBA, when we struggle to hire them in the women’s game?
Below, we introduce you to these women:
Atlanta Dream Head Coach – Nicki Collen
Nicki Collen was named head coach of the Atlanta Dream on October 30, 2017.
In her first season at the helm, Collen led the Dream to franchise-best 23-11 record and the No. 2 overall seed entering the 2018 WNBA Playoffs. For her work, the first-year head coach was named WNBA Coach of the Year. Her 2018 team tied a franchise-best 13 home wins and won 10 games on the road, the most ever by a Dream squad.
Collen came to the Dream after pair of successful seasons as an assistant coach for the Connecticut Sun. Working for 2017 WNBA Coach of the Year Curt Miller, Collen helped the Sun compile an impressive 21-13 record and finished with the fourth-best regular season record in the WNBA, earning the franchise’s first postseason appearance since 2012. Connecticut, who lost former No. 1 pick Chiney Ogwumike to injury prior to the 2017 season, improve on a 14-20 record in 2016.
Prior to moving to Connecticut, Collen served under head coach Karl Smesko at Florida Gulf Coast. Joining the staff in July of 2014, Collen helped guide the Eagles to consecutive 30-win seasons. The 2015-16 team recently completed a 33-6 campaign with a trip to the WNIT Championship game, where it was edged by South Dakota on April 2nd. The 2014-15 Eagles were 31-3 with a 26-game winning streak and an undefeated record in the Atlantic Sun Conference. That team also made history with its first Division I national ranking and its first NCAA Tournament victory, a 75-67 win over 10th-seeded Oklahoma State.
Before moving to FGCU, Collen enjoyed great success as an assistant coach at Arkansas, Louisville, Ball State and Colorado State. During her nine seasons as an assistant coach at the collegiate level, Collen helped teams reached three NCAA tournaments and five WNITs.
Collen played one year of professional basketball with the BCM Alexandros team in Greece.
As a player at Purdue, Collen was a member of Big 10 championship teams that advanced to the Final Four in 1994 and the Elite Eight in 1995. Collen transferred to Marquette as a junior, competing in two more NCAA tournaments while also securing a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Collen and her husband Tom have three children, Connor, Reese and Logan.
SOURCE: WNBA website
Indiana Fever – Pokey Chatman
The sixth head coach in Indiana Fever history, Pokey Chatman boasts an accomplished record with success at every level of women’s basketball. After six seasons as head coach and general manager of the Chicago Sky, Chatman was named to her post with the Fever on Nov. 18, 2016.
Chatman engineered Chicago’s ascent in the WNBA’s Eastern Conference, guiding the Sky to their first playoff appearance in 2013 and leading the franchise to the WNBA Finals a year later. She finished her assignment in the Windy City with a 106-98 regular season record, four straight playoff appearances and an 8-12 mark in the postseason.
Prior to her time in the WNBA, she enjoyed a 20-year career at Louisiana State that included four seasons as a starting point guard, followed by assignments as assistant coach, associate coach and, for three seasons from 2004-07, head coach. During her lengthy tenure at LSU, she attended three Final Fours and was a part of 15 NCAA Tournament teams. As acting head coach and head coach, she led the Tigers to three consecutive Final Fours including a 2005 loss in the national semifinals at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. She earned national coach of the year accolades in her first full season in 2005.
Her diverse resume also includes a pair of EuroLeague titles with Spartak Moscow, first as an assistant in 2009, and another while serving as head coach of the Russian powerhouse for four seasons from 2009-13.
Internationally, Chatman was a part of two gold-medal teams with USA Basketball. As a player, she won gold with the USA’s U18 squad that won the FIBA Americas championship in Brazil in 1988. She was an assistant coach with the U.S. team at the World University Games in 2005 in Turkey. She also coached the national team of Slovakia for two seasons.
SOURCE: WNBA website
Minnesota Lynx – Cheryl Reeve
Reeve started out as assistant coach at her alma mater, La Salle for two years. She was then an assistant at George Washington for five years. The Colonials posted five 20-win seasons, captured three Atlantic 10 Conference Championships and appeared in four NCAA tournaments during Reeve’s stint at George Washington. Her first head coaching position was with the Indiana State Sycamores from 1995 to December 1st of the 2000-2001 season (replaced by her assistant coach Jim Wiedie) . She improved the team’s record each year for the first four seasons, and led the squad to its first postseason berth in 20 years following the 1998-1999 campaign. She’s currently ranked 5th in Wins within Lady Sycamore annals
Reeve got her start in the WNBA with the Charlotte Sting in 2001 when she joined Anne Donovan’s staff as an assistant. After posting an 8-24 record the year previous, Charlotte turned things around in Reeve’s first year by going 18-14 and advancing to the WNBA Finals. They followed in 2002, with another 18-14 mark and their second straight appearance in the postseason.
Following the 2002 campaign, Donovan left to become the head coach of the Seattle Storm, and Dan Hughes and the Cleveland Rockershired Reeve away from Charlotte. The Rockers advanced to the playoffs that year, but in the offseason ownership decided to cease operation of the team making Reeve a coaching free agent. She rejoined the Sting staff for the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Reeve then spent four seasons as an assistant coach with the Detroit Shock, also serving as the team’s last general manager before they moved to Tulsa.
Reeve was named the head coach of the Minnesota Lynx on December 8, 2009. In her first season, the Lynx went 13-21, missing the playoffs. The team was hampered by injuries to Candice Wiggins and Seimone Augustus. At one point, a frustrated Reeve said bluntly, “We are a bad basketball team. It starts at the top. I have not been able to get them to understand defensively what we need to get done and, clearly, our offense is one of the worst in the league.”
The Lynx improved dramatically in 2011. With Wiggins and Augustus back healthy, and with the addition of rookie Maya Moore, the team got off to a quick start and did not falter throughout the regular season, finishing with a league-best 27-7 record. The dramatic turnaround earned Reeve the WNBA Coach of the Year Award in just her second year as a head coach at the professional level. The Lynx finished what they started, losing only one game in the playoffs en route to their first WNBA championship.
Reeve took her team back to the playoffs in her third year. The team qualified for the playoffs after just 21 games, the fastest in franchise history. Reeve became the winningest coach in Lynx franchise history on August 26, 2012, with a win over the Atlanta Dream. The Lynx went on to lose to the Indiana Fever in the WNBA Finals.
In 2013, Reeve and her staff coached the WNBA Western Conference All-Star Team, as the Lynx had won the conference championship the previous year. Reeve’s squad included four Lynx players — Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson, and Lindsay Whalen. Reeve’s team ended up winning the game, 102-98. Reeve’s team then swept through the playoffs, going 7-0 en route to their second championship under her leadership.
Reeve is currently the winningest coach in franchise history, both in terms of the number of won games and winning percentage, and by percentage the winningest coach in WNBA history. She won her 100th regular season game on June 2, 2014, in a victory over the San Antonio Stars. She won her 31st postseason game on September 30, 2016, in a semi-final victory over the Phoenix Mercury, to move into first place in WNBA history in playoff wins.
Reeve was named the WNBA coach of the year by a panel of media representatives in 2016.
In December 2017, Reeve was also promoted to the Lynx General Manager position.
New York Liberty – Katie Smith
In 2019, Katie Smith enters her sixth season as a member of the New York Liberty coaching staff and her second as the team’s head coach. Smith was elevated to the top position on the bench in October 2017, becoming the seventh head coach in franchise history. Smith originally joined the Liberty staff in 2014 and spent two seasons as an assistant to head coach Bill Laimbeer before assuming the role of associate head coach for the 2016-17 campaigns. In her four seasons working alongside Laimbeer, the Liberty posted an overall regular-season record of 81-55 (.596), including three straight 20-win seasons that earned three consecutive playoff berths from 2015 through 2017.
One of the greatest players in WNBA history, Smith played 15 seasons in the league and, coupled with her two seasons in the ABL, retired as the all-time scoring leader in women’s professional basketball history with 7,885-career points. At the time of her retirement, she ranked second in WNBA history with 6,452 career points and first in both three-point field goals made (906) and attempted (2,466), fourth in free throws made (1,440), and 10th in all-time assists (1,258). Smith was a two-time WNBA champion (2006, 2008) playing for Laimbeer, then the Shock head coach. She also voted as one of the Top 15 players in WNBA history in 2011 (the league’s 15th season) and as one of the Top 20 best and most influential players in WNBA history in 2016, the league’s 20th campaign.
Her resume also includes seven selections to the WNBA All-Star Game and three Olympic gold medals as a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team (2000, 2004, 2008), Smith began her pro career in the ABL as a member of the Columbus Quest, playing for head coach Brian Agler and winning that league’s only two championships. She then signed with the WNBA in 1999, joining the expansion Minnesota Lynx along with Agler, who served as that team’s first head coach. Eight years later in 2006, and by then a member of the Detroit Shock playing for Laimbeer, Smith won her first WNBA championship. In that same 2006 season, Smith – playing in her sixth WNBA All-Star Game – became the first player to notch All-Star wins as a member of both the Eastern and Western Conference teams. Following the 2009 season, her last with the Shock, Smith went on to play for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics (2010) and Seattle Storm (2011-12). Then, in her final season as a player, she joined the Liberty, reuniting with Laimbeer, then the New York head coach. One year later she would join Laimbeer’s and embark upon her coaching career in the professional ranks.
Smith’s success also extended to the international level where, in addition to winning three Olympic gold medals, she helped the U.S. Women’s National Team win gold at the FIBA World Championships in 1998 and 2002. Smith has a deep connection with Ohio State University. As a student-athlete, the Logan, Ohio native helped the Buckeyes to the NCAA championship game as a freshman and went on to break the Big Ten scoring record for points scored in a career in men’s or women’s basketball. On Jan. 21, 2001, The Ohio State University honored her as the first female Buckeye athlete to have her number retired. Smith spent several WNBA off-seasons on the Buckeyes’ women’s basketball staff.
SOURCE: WNBA website
Phoenix Mercury – Sandy Brondello
Veteran WNBA player, coach and former Australian Olympian Sandy Brondello (braun-DELL-oh) was named the ninth head coach in franchise history on November 15, 2013. Brondello also serves as the team’s vice president of player personnel. On October 13, 2016, the Mercury signed Brondello to a multi-year contract extension.
Known for her intense preparation for each opponent, Brondello has compiled an overall regular season record of 103-67 in her first five seasons with the Mercury, making her the all-time winningest coach in franchise history. Additionally, Brondello has compiled a 17-12 postseason record at the helm of the Mercury, also ranking her as the winningest coach in franchise history in the postseason. She was named the 2014 WNBA Coach of the Year marking the first time a Mercury coach picked up the honor. She led the team to a WNBA regular season-record 29 wins and capped the season with a WNBA Championship.
A 14-year veteran of the WNBA coaching ranks, Brondello has been affiliated with the league for 20 of the league’s 23 seasons, including her time as a player. A proven winner internationally and in the WNBA, her 14 total years as an assistant coach and head coach have featured 11 playoff appearances, including eight semifinals round berths (formerly conference finals), the 2014 WNBA Championship and a spot in the 2008 WNBA Finals. Brondello joined the Mercury after serving as lead assistant coach for the Los Angeles Sparks (2011-13) under 2012 WNBA Coach of the Year Carol Ross. Brondello led the San Antonio Silver Stars to a 2010 playoff berth in her lone season at the helm following five seasons on the Silver Stars bench as an assistant under Dan Hughes (2005-09), the third-winningest coach in league history.
A 2010 inductee into the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame, Brondello was named the 11th head coach for the Australian Women’s National Basketball team on April 17, 2017. While she continues to serve in her role as head coach for the Mercury, Brondello will spend her off seasons preparing the Aussies for a trip to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Recently, Brondello led the Australian National Team to the gold medal in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, finishing with a perfect 5-0 in the games and winning by an average of 53 points per game, and guided the Opals to the silver medal in the 2018 Women’s World Cup, losing only to Team USA in the gold medal game.
During the WNBA offseason, Brondello used to serve as an assistant coach with Russian League team UMMC Ekaterinburg. Now the Mercury’s head of player personnel, Phoenix’s pro scouting efforts are buoyed by Brondello’s knowledge of and exposure to overseas talent.
Brondello finished a stellar 17-year professional playing career with a five-year run in the WNBA in which she played for Detroit (1998-99), Miami (2001-02) and Seattle (2003), and was named a 1999 WNBA All-Star. She began her career with the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) in Australia (1986-96), and was named the league MVP in 1995. The 5-7 guard was a 10-time German Cup champion while playing with BTV Wuppertal (1992-2002), a three-time European Cup All-Star selection (1994, 1996, 1997), and the 1996 European Cup MVP when she led her team to the title.
An 18-year member of the Australian National Team, Brondello is a four-time Olympian, a two-time silver medalist (2000, 2004) and was named the 1992 Australian International Player of the Year. In her time with the national team, she was a teammate of former Mercury forward, and current assistant coach for Phoenix, Penny Taylor.
Brondello is married to Olaf Lange, who is the head coach of the Russian women’s national basketball team. The couple has two children, Brody and Jayda.