New Black women head coaches relish the challenge

This series will cover the WNBA’s 21st season with at least one story on the league weekly from the season’s May 13 opening to its closing on September 3 and through the 2017 playoffs.

During the last off-season, an overlooked historic fact rarely seen in sports at any level took place in the WNBA. All three head coaching vacancies were filled by Black women. Amber Stocks, Vickie Johnson and Pokey Chatman all were hired by Chicago, San Antonio and Indiana respectively.

Chatman is the only one of the three with previous league head coaching experience. Stocks succeeded Chatman in the dual roles of general manager and head coach after the latter was fired by the Sky after six seasons.

Amber Stocks Sophia Hantzes/MSR News

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” admitted Stocks after a game at the St. Paul hockey arena, the Minnesota Lynx’s one-year temporary home. She finished her second year as an assistant coach on the 2016 W champion Los Angeles Sparks that defeated the Lynx last fall in five thrilling games.

Prior to joining the Sparks, Stocks was an assistant coach at Xavier (2002-06, 2007-09) and Tennessee (2000-02), a strength and conditioning coach at Notre Dame (1999-2000), and a student assistant strength and conditioning coach at both Cincinnati and Xavier. She also was a color analyst for ESPN 3, the Big East Digital Network and Fox Sports.

Stocks took over a club that sent their franchise player to D.C. and must now rebuild the Sky into a competitive squad that Chatman molded in six years. “Being a competitor, being a professional, being a focused, driven person who wants to win in anything I do,” she said, “I embraced the challenge of the dual role of both general manager and head coach.

“It’s a lot of work,” added Stocks. “But that’s what I worked hard for in preparation for so many years.”

After a dozen years playing in the league, Johnson accepted Dan Hughes’ offer to join his staff as an assistant coach. Hughes retired after the 2016 season, and Johnson was offered the opportunity to move over a couple of chairs to the hot seat.

“It’s a process,” she told me after a loss at Minnesota earlier this season – the Stars as of press time are the only WNBA winless team this season.

Vickie Johnson (Onika Nicole Craven/MSR News)

Her patience “has been tried,” said Johnson. “I’m losing my voice. I never yelled so much in my life. But at the same time, my players are sponges. It’s just a matter of time, of trusting the system and playing all out for 40 minutes.

“We have to learn how to trust the system, trust your teammates, and come out and play four quarters, even if we have to focus on one quarter at a time,” noted the first-year San Antonio coach. “That’s youth, but at the same time I have to hold them accountable, and I have to do a better job as well in coaching.”

“I lean on my staff a lot,” said Stocks of her two assistant coaches. “They have a lot of responsibilities, and I lean on them a lot… They are very experienced coaches.”

Both Chicago and San Antonio currently might not be at the top of the league heap, but neither woman would trade places as WNBA head coaches for anything else — there are only 12 such jobs. “You never know what the Lord has in store for us,” concluded Stocks.


Yes, she said it…

“I like the emphasis on the work that we do on the court — that’s the heart and soul of who we are,” said Minnesota’s Maya Moore of her involvement in the league’s “Watch Me Work” campaign.


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