Mystics' Thibault picks up third WNBA Coach-of-the-Year Award

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September 21, 2013 - 7:02pm
Mike Thibault, in his first year as head coach and general manager of the Washington Mystics, was named 2013 WNBA Coach of the Year. (Photo by Teri Priebe)

Mike Thibault, in his first year as head coach and general manager of the Washington Mystics, was named 2013 WNBA Coach of the Year. (Photo by Teri Priebe)

Washington Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault was named the 2013 WNBA Coach of the Year Award at a Verizon Center press conference prior to the second game of the Mystics' best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Atlanta Dream.

Thibault, the winningest coach in WNBA history, also won the WNBA Coach-of-the-Year award in 2006 and 2008 while coaching the Connecticut Sun. Thibault’s three Coach-of-the-Year awards are tied for the most in WNBA history with Van Chancellor, who earned the honor in each of the league’s first three seasons (1997 through 1999).  Thibault also joins Dan Hughes (2001, 2007) as the only coaches to win the award with two different teams.

This year's race for Coach of the Year was tighter than ever, with several worthy candidates, and it showed in the voting. Thibault, who in his first season with the Mystics guided the franchise to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and racked up more wins (15) than the Mystics had achieved in the past two seasons combined, received 12 votes from a national panel of 39 sportswriters and broadcasters. The Seattle Storm’s Brian Agler and Chicago Sky’s Pokey Chatman tied for second with 11 votes apiece.

Lin Dunn of the Indiana Fever captured three votes, while Gary Kloppenburg of the Tulsa Shockand Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx rounded out the vote-getters with one ballot apiece.

If there was a difference-maker in the Coach-of-the-Year balloting this year it appeared to be doing more with less. Chatman made history winning the Eastern Conference regular season, taking the Sky to their first-ever playoff appearance in the process. But she did so with the help of three WNBA All Stars, including 2013 Rookie of the Year and No. 2 draft pick Elena Delle Donne; 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Sylvia Fowles, one of the two best true centers in the league, if not the world; and former Rutgers' star Epiphanny Prince, who was very much in the running for last season's Most-Improved honors until injury dropped her out of contention. This year, her key players have, for the most part, been healthy for most of the season, including four-time All Star and Olympic gold-medalist Swin Cash, who brought a wealth of veteran leadership and championship experience to the table when she arrived in Chicago last year.

The 17-17 record and fourth-place Western Conference finish of Agler's Seattle Storm does not approach Chatman's 24-10, first-place Eastern Conference run this year, but then again, few would have predicted the Storm would be in the playoffs at all when it was announced before the season began that they would be without the services of keystone players Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird. True, Agler had 17-year veteran and all-time WNBA leading scorer Tina Thompson to build around, but then again, did I mention, Thompson is a 17-year veteran? Knock the top two players off the roster of any team currently in the playoff race and ask yourself whether they would still be there? Enough said. (That's not to mention that Agler also marked an historic achievement this season becoming the all-time winningest coach in women's professional basketball when his victories with the now-defunct American Basketball League are added to his WNBA wins.)

One can't overlook Dunn, who has had the Fever in the postseason for much of her tenure. Dunn took her band of underdogs to the WNBA title last season, and though, of course, this is 2013's award, not 2012's, the Hall of Famer, who has never won WNBA Coach-of-the-Year honors, got her squad back to the playoffs despite losing several players to debilitating injuries.

Despite being largely snubbed by the voters, Reeve certainly deserved consideration after once again leading the Lynx to the league's best record (albeit, with a talent-packed roster that would have most of her colleagues salivating). At the opposite end of the spectrum, Gary Kloppenburg's Tulsa Shock may still be mired in the standings basement, but their 11-17 finish is by far their best since the franchise departed Detroit, and he got them there despite the loss of his star, 6-8 Elizabeth Cambage, for much of the start and all of the end of the season.

Still, Thibault had a road nearly as hard to hoe as any of them. His Mystics are the youngest team in the WNBA and the only team in the league with four rookies -- none of them among this year's top draft picks. Upon arrival in D.C., after being fired by the Connecticut Sun, Thibault revamped the roster, bringing in seven players (including the rookies) who were not with the team in 2012, led by guard Ivory Latta, who signed with the Mystics as an unrestricted free agent this past winter and went on to be selected to the Eastern Conference All-Star squad.  Thibault also orchestrated a trade that brought center Kia Vaughn to Washington, and added four rookies to the roster. 

Thibault then orchestrated a massive turnaround in Washington, D.C. The team's 17-17 record not only takes one of the league's cornerstone franchises back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 with the third seed in the Eastern Conference. It also represents a 12-game improvement over last season, when the Mystics finished 5-29. Just one year prior to that, Washington posted a 6-28 mark.

Under Thibault's tutelage, the team has improved in virtually every significant statistical category:

Category 2012 2013
Points per Game 68.6 75.4
Field-Goal Percentage .412 .414
3-Point Field-Goal Percentage .301 .329
Assists per Game 15.6 15.8
Turnovers 16.8 15.3
2013 statistics as of Sept. 11, 2013

And about those rookies? Under Thibault's coaching, three of them -- Tayler Hill, European teenager Emma Meesseman, and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt – received votes toward the WNBA All-Rookie Team, making Washington the only team to hold that distinction.

Prior to joining the Mystics, Thibault spent 10 seasons (2003 through 2012) as head coach of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, leading that club to eight playoff appearances and two WNBA Finals.  During his tenure with the Sun, Thibault compiled a 206-134 (.605) record and achieved several other milestones, including becoming the second coach in WNBA history to reach 200 regular-season victories, the third-fastest coach in league history to compile 100 wins (doing so in 159 games), and the fourth WNBA head coach to work at least 300 regular-season games.

In addition to his WNBA coaching duties, Thibault served as an assistant to Head Coach Anne Donovan on theU.S. Women’s National Team that won a gold medal during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Before joining the Sun in 2003, Thibault spent numerous years in various roles with NBA teams.  He first joined the NBA in 1978 as a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers and was quickly promoted to director of scouting and assistant coach in 1980.  During his tenure with the Lakers, the team won two NBA championships.  From 1982-86, he served as the director of scouting for the Chicago Bulls, when that organization selected Michael Jordan, Charles Oakley, and John Paxson.  Thibault went on to serve as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks and also as a scout for the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks.

Oh, and by the way. That team that decided it was time for a change and let Thibault get away? They finished the season 10-24, dead last not only in the Eastern Conference, but in the entire league.

Below are the voting results for 2013 WNBA Coach of the Year Award as well as a list of past recipients:

 

2013 WNBA COACH OF THE YEAR RESULTS

 

12              Mike Thibault             Washington Mystics

11              Brian Agler                  Seattle Storm

11              Pokey Chatman           Chicago Sky

  3              Lin Dunn                     Indiana Fever

  1              Gary Kloppenburg       Tulsa Shock

  1              Cheryl Reeve               Minnesota Lynx

 

WNBA COACH OF THE YEAR WINNERS

 

2013          Mike Thibault             Washington Mystics

2012          Carol Ross                   Los Angeles Sparks

2011          Cheryl Reeve               Minnesota Lynx

2010          Brian Agler                  Seattle Storm

2009          Marynell Meadors        Atlanta Dream

2008          Mike Thibault              Connecticut Sun

2007          Dan Hughes                 San Antonio Silver Stars

2006          Mike Thibault              Connecticut Sun               

2005          John Whisenant           Sacramento Monarchs

2004          Suzie McConnell Serio Minnesota Lynx

2003          Bill Laimbeer               Detroit Shock

2002          Marianne Stanley         Washington Mystics

2001          Dan Hughes                Cleveland Rockers

2000          Michael Cooper           Los Angeles Sparks

1999          Van Chancellor            Houston Comets

1998          Van Chancellor            Houston Comets

1997          Van Chancellor            Houston Comets

 

Source:  Portions of this story were obtained from press releases from the WNBA and the Washington Mystics.


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