Lack of WNBA Championship Leads to Thibault FiringNovember 21, 2012
Had former Connecticut Sun head coach Mike Thibault led his 2012 team to a WNBA championship, he probably wouldn’t have been fired Tuesday, team officials acknowledged.
“If we had won a championship, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation,” said general manager Chris Sienko during a press conference five hours after Thibault, with 11 years at the helm the longest active WNBA coach, whose, 206-134 record was second only to Van Chancellor, was informed the team would not pick up the option on his contract, which was to expire in March. He will receive a buyout. His assistants, Scott Hawk and Bernadette Mattox were also let go.
“After 10 years, we felt we needed a new voice and a new direction,” Sienko said.
Sienko and CEO Mitchell Etess said repeatedly that they thought they had everything in place -- a core group of solid players, plus post-season experience -- to reach the 2012 WNBA finals, but instead were “embarrassed” by being eliminated in a 87-71 home loss to eventual WNBA champion Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference finals.
Etess said that the decision to fire Thibault, however, was not just because of that last game, a loss which Thibault said at the time would haunt him for a long time.
“We’ve won a lot of games but we just felt at the end of the day, we needed to win a championship.”
“There is some intangible that comes into effect in the playoffs... it’s tough to pinpoint one thing [but] we hope this move will bring about [the] mental toughness needed to get to the next level," Sienko said. “We felt nothing would be different next year if we didn’t make the change.”
Both men expressed appreciation at Thibault’s success at putting the Sun in a position to be WNBA champion and said that five years ago when his contract was renewed for five more years, “we believed he could get us to the next level.”
Under Thibault, the Sun made the playoffs eight years, which included four Eastern Conference titles and two appearances in the WNBA finals, both of which they lost.
Thibault was informed Thursday morning of his termination during a conversation Sienko described as “gracious” though he said the coach was “a little taken aback.”
According to New London Day sports columnist in an afternoon post, Thibault said he understands that the team is a business and that those who pay his salary have the option to do “what they want.” He also said he did not agree that “a different voice” will change things and that he was always well treated by those at Mohegan Sun as well as the fans.
Team officials said they will begin immediately the job of finding a new coach and since the news broke have had numerous inquiries. They hope to have someone in place by the start of the free agency period, Feb. 1, but probably sooner.
Team officials said the players were texted or told personally Thursday morning before a statement firing Thibault was publicly released.
“People are always shocked by change -- change is difficult –- but ultimately they understand that what we’re after is to have an opportunity to win a championship,” Etess said.
Most of the team is playing professionally abroad this time of year.
“This was not a quick decision based on a player being unhappy,” Etess said. “The players didn’t call for this.”
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