Blacks getting first chances as college and pro head coaches continues to be a daunting task. Getting an HC second chance can be even more daunting and all-but- elusive as well.
Vickie Johnson got her second chance in December when the Dallas Wings named her their next HC. It comes almost three years after Johnson’s first chance ended in San Antonio in 2017, her one and only season at the helm thus far.
Johnson, a former two-time WNBA All-Star, played 12 seasons, plus 12 more overseas. She is the league’s only Black female HC and one of three Blacks overall in a league in which three-fourths of the players are Black.
After two seasons as a Las Vegas assistant coach, Johnson is back in the first chair. “When I got into this coaching I knew I was head coaching material. I didn’t want to be an assistant all my life,” she told reporters during a Zoom introductory press conference last month. “I interviewed for the [Dallas] job in 2018, but it just wasn’t our time.
“I didn’t want to coach just any team,” explained Johnson.
Her point can’t be overlooked—too often Blacks are hired to take over losing teams. The Wings haven’t posted a winning season since their days as the Detroit Shock, winning three W titles (2003, 2006 and 2008) before being sold and moved to Tulsa in 2010, then moved to Arlington in 2016.
Dallas went 8-14 in 2020, missing the playoffs for the second straight season. “We are going to build something great here,” said a confident Johnson. “We will build a championship team, but it takes time.”
Reporters peppered Johnson on her coaching philosophy, now coaching one of the league’s youngest but most promising clubs with young stars as Arike Obunbowale, Marina Mabrey and Satou Sabally. She said lessons learned in San Antonio will help her now in Dallas—listening to the players and “trusting your decisions.”
“One thing I’ve learned from coaching is, let the players be who they are,” said the new Dallas coach. “I’m going to help them reach a different level.”
Buffalo WBB Coach Felisha Legette-Jack also is a “second chance” HC. We got to know her when she coached at Indiana (2006-12), where she led the team to three post-season berths yet was fired by the AD who didn’t originally hire her.
“I didn’t want to take the Indiana job,” she recalled, “but I really thought [the AD who hired her] and the [school] president were the right people for me to have success. I went there with my eyes wide open.”
Now at UB, Legette-Jack is the school’s all-time winningest coach, leading them to seven straight winning seasons and posting 20+ win campaigns in her last five. She has over 300 victories in her 18 seasons as an HC at three different schools (Hofstra, IU and Buffalo).
“I can coach anywhere,” said Legette-Jack.
Regardless of the sport, Blacks seeking first chances too often fall victim to who’s doing the hiring, for the most part Whites. We also hear the tired ‘We can’t find qualified Blacks’ as their fallback refrain when Blacks aren’t hired.
It’s about getting a chance, the same chance that Whites get even with limited experience but Blacks with more experience don’t get. Diversity pledges and Rooney Rules don’t work.
“I’m saddened that the [diversity] needle has not moved much,” said Cal-Riverside Athletic Director Tamica Smith Jones.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.