Sports Commentary 1/4/1
The assignment is clear, the wiggle room is limited. No one expects Anne Donovan to get fired after one year on the job, regardless of the outcome, but everyone knows why Mike Thibault is no longer the head coach of the WNBA Connecticut Sun. Thibault had a spectacular resume, one that included eight playoff appearances in his ten year tenure as the only head coach in the team’s history, including this past season, two WNBA finals appearances, Coach of the Year honors in 2006 and 2008 and 206 career wins, which puts him second on the all time WNBA list, first among active coaches. On November 20th Thibault was fired. His only failing was the one thing missing from that ledger, a league championship. Anne Donovan has one, a 2004 title with the Seattle Storm, who beat Thibault’s Sun in the finals. She added to that championship pedigree by coaching the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in 2008. And now, the expectation is out in the open. After ten years of coming close Mike Thibault didn’t deliver the holy grail. It’s the one thing the Sun covet most. Donovan has demonstrated she knows how to get it. Yesterday she was introduced as the successor to Thibault, who was so coveted by other WNBA teams he was hired as both coach and general manager of the Washington Mystics. Without duplicating her feat of winning a league championship she’ll have no chance of duplicating Thibault’s tenure with the Sun. When Thibault was fired all the speculation surrounded University of Hartford women’s coach Jen Rizzotti. That was November 20th. Exactly one month later Rizzotti, who has a long relationship with Sun general manager Chris Sienko, told a gathering of Connecticut media, “They did not interview me or offer me the job.” In terms of whether they actually expressed interest, a non denial denial. Yesterday, on introducing Donovan, Mohegan Sun sports and entertainment CEO Mitch Etess said Donovan was at the top of their list from the outset. Donovan says the process, from the time they contacted her agent until yesterday, played out quickly, in about two weeks, leaving a void of one month from the Thibault firing to the Rizzotti statement, a month during which the Sun might have been expected to contact their top choice. Top choice or not, it now becomes a pressure game for Anne Donovan, and she’s already playing it well, with a nod to the excitement for women’s basketball that exists in Connecticut and a tip of the cap to the media that fuels the fire, “There’s no better place for women’s basketball than in this state”, she said, adding, “And you guys are part of that.” And she’s ready for the challenge. “Pressure is something I enjoy”, she said when the question of the reason for Thibault’s firing came up, “If you’re in coaching you better enjoy it and you better step up to the plate or you’re not in the right situation. I think there’s always pressure internally from me no matter what postion I’m in. At the same time there’s tremendous confidence, having some idea what it takes. The challenge and the pressure excite me.” Anne Donovan’s sure to be excited by her new assignment. It comes with one expecation, and that comes with a lot of pressure. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.