Black head coaches now lead half the WNBA

Sports Odds & Ends

CHICAGO – The WNBA this season boasts the highest number of Black head coaches, six, since 1998—exactly one-half of the league’s 12 HCs.  

At her All-Star pregame press conference Sunday in Chicago, the MSR asked Commissioner Cathy Engelbert to comment on this season’s coaching diversity. “As you mentioned,” Engelbert replied, “we have six out of 12, and now we have seven out of 12 women, and there were only a couple when I came into the league [in 2019]. I think we’re looking at diversity broadly, both gender and race.”

Based simply on years on the job, Chicago’s James Wade (three seasons) has the longest tenure. Wade on Sunday was the first Black All-Star coach since 2015 (Pokey Chatman) and only the third Black to do so (Michael Cooper did it thrice). 

Wade told the MSR last week in Minneapolis, “Just to be able to represent and be considered in this era of all those top coaches is a really amazing feeling for me.” He coached Team Stewart to a 134-112 victory Sunday.

Wade’s Sky will host Las Vegas in the second Commissioner’s Cup championship July 26 in Chicago. He will be the second Black coach to coach in the now-annual in-season title game. (Noelle Quinn led Seattle to a win last season.) 

Quinn and Dallas’ Vickie Johnson are former W players—the former played 12 seasons, then became an assistant coach in Seattle. She became HC last June after Dan Hughes stepped down. Quinn was elevated to associate head coach in June 2020.

“We have three of the best players in the league (Jewell Loyd, Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird) on our team and [we are] building around that and adding the additions that we did in the offseason,” said Quinn. “It was a process that I didn’t get last season… I didn’t get a chance to do that last year, to build systems, to have my style.”

The Storm coach brought in veteran Pokey Chatman on her staff this season. “She’s so experienced, and she’s been a GM and a head coach in this league,” noted Quinn. 

“She understands the grind. She helps me with things…a consummate professional and just someone who I had to lean on for advice, not only in basketball or just life… She has my back.”

“I make sure I’m getting better for them, because that’s what the team deserves,” Chatman pointed out.

Johnson is in her second season with Dallas and led the Wings to the playoffs for the first time since 2018 in her first season. A 13-year veteran player, Johnson was hired by then-San Antonio as an assistant coach for seven seasons before spending one year as head coach. She rejoined the team when it relocated to Las Vegas in 2018 as an assistant before her current position.

“I think it’s important for the league to recognize Black coaches, give them opportunities, give us opportunities in high positions,” Johnson told the MSR. “I think it’s important for the league to be represented by former players as well, not only as head coaches and assistants, but GMs as well.”

Tanisha Wright, a retired 10-year W veteran player, is in her first season as Atlanta HC.

Veteran coach Fred Williams originally was leaving the Los Angeles Sparks sometime this season to return to college coaching, but in June he was named interim head coach for the rest of the season. He has been a WNBA head coach for three clubs in his three decades of experience.

Carlos Knox was hired as an assistant coach in Indiana last December—he became the Fever interim head coach in May. “I created some great relationships with [the players], so they were actually excited about me coming over and being a coach,” said Knox. “I just want to do right by our players.”