Being on both sides of the whistle

A seasoned Coach Staley advises new Coach Whalen

Coach Dawn Staley Photo courtesy of University of South Carolina

New Gopher Women’s Basketball Coach Lindsay Whalen said in last week’s “View” that she soon would “reach out” to South Carolina and U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Coach Dawn Staley. Staley in 2000 became the first WNBA player to take a Division I head coaching job (at Temple) while still an active player.

That reach-out took place last Thursday, and Staley afterwards talked to several reporters by phone, including the MSR.

We asked Coach Staley, who coached Temple from 2000 to 2008 and then took the South Carolina job where she won the 2017 NCAA title, who she reached out to for advice when she first went into coaching. “I’m not afraid to ask for help,” she responded, “but I like to try things out myself first. I wanted to shape it myself, but I did have coaching friends” and at times often bounced ideas off them.

“When you come into this business, you need people who have your back,” Staley continued. “You need people who understand that you’re not just a namesake.”

There are some who see the Whalen hire two weeks ago as symbolic, or as a clever way to sell tickets.

“I know there are hundreds of coaches out there who are deserving of jobs like the one at Minnesota,” the Daily Herald’s Patricia Babcock McGraw recently penned. “And they are ready, willing and able to jump all-in. It’s a shame they got passed over.”

Staley, however, told us of her advice to Whalen, “I don’t think Lindsay Whalen should try to be a coach. I think she should try to be herself and do what she does on the court in leading the Minnesota Lynx. The coaching thing will come later.

“My advice is to compartmentalize,” the coach noted. “I told Lindsay that she needs to be a player as long as she can. It is great satisfaction to be on both sides of the whistle.”

Staley recalled when she was still a W player as well as a college head coach: “The first thing I learned is thank God I don’t have to do this full time. The second thing is you are getting a taste of what it is to be a coach. You can decide if you like it, love it, or you don’t. You always have the game to take your mind off it as a player.

“I learned how to organize, and compartmentalize a lot better,” Staley pointed out. “I learned to manage my time a lot better.”

Whalen, Staley and Tina Thompson were all named two years ago to the WNBA’s 20@20 list of the league’s best players of its first two decades. Shortly after Whalen’s hire, Thompson was named head coach at Virginia, Staley’s alma mater, after three seasons as an assistant at Texas. She retired from the WNBA in 2013 after 17 seasons.

Her experience on the sidelines but not in the head seat gives Thompson an edge over Whalen,’s Mechelle Voepel noted in her April 19 piece. “Whalen will need experience, loyalty, and very good communication skills from her staff, especially while she’s on the road with the Lynx” this summer, which is prime recruiting time, Voepel observed.

“Lindsay decided to do this because she wants to coach,” Staley said. “She wants to make her mark, to be a dream merchant for young people. I hope I can be that person for her, because I’ve done it.

“I loved playing when it was time to play,” said Staley. “[Then], when it was time to coach, I was coaching. I loved where I was at that time.”