Professional Basketball

Hughes Takes Helm as Seattle Storm’s Next Head Coach

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Retirement didn’t last long for Dan Hughes. The 62-year old veteran head coach for the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers and San Antonio Stars stepped away following the 2016 WNBA season insisting that would be his last so he could spend more time with his family.

Dan Hughes listens to a reporter’s question in the press conference after Game 1 of the WNBA Western Conference Semi-Finals in 2014. Photo by Matthew Fleegel/Sportspage Magazine.

A recent phone call changed that when the Seattle Storm coaxed him out of retirement and announced Wednesday that he would become their fifth coach in franchise history after the team dismissed Jenny Boucek from her duties on Aug. 22. Gary Kloppenburg filled in as the interim coach through the remainder of the season, guiding the Storm to the eighth seed in the 2017 WNBA playoffs.

The Storm’s president and general manager, Alisha Valavanis, said at the close of the season that Kloppenburg would be a candidate for the job. Whether Kloppenburg was interviewed for the position or not is unknown, but Valavanis contacted Hughes, which, he said, “is a situation presented that I had to think about.”

Hughes did what he always does in situations like this – consulted with his family. Mary, his wife, along with his son Bryce and daughter Sara, all said that Hughes “had to do it.”

“I enjoyed doing different basketball things,” Hughes said about his year off. “It was my year of giving back because the WNBA gave me so much.”

He admitted that coming back to coach again was a surprise and that it was “certainly something I didn’t plan to have happen.”

Unlike his previous teams, namely his time in Cleveland and San Antonio, Hughes will be strictly a head coach and not the general manager this time.

“I think this league has advanced now to the point where you almost always have to have separate people as head coach and general manager,” said Hughes. “Fifteen years ago may have been a different story, but the WNBA world has gotten to where you need a second person. The complexity of what we are doing has changed that.”

He knows that Valavanis will be a trusted ally and that the situation is a good fit for him.

“I want Alisha to know who I think would thrive in the culture but I’m a resource, not the decision maker,” he said. “It’s her ball. I’m not going to micromanage the GM role. I needed to have the trust in someone else being the GM because I don’t want that. I want to be a part of the community as a basketball coach.”

Hughes has been in rebuilding situations before and knows that Seattle is farther along in the process than other teams that he has coached.

He has veteran point guard Sue Bird, who signed a multiyear contract before the 2016 season essentially making her a member of the Storm for the remainder of her career, along with Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart, who were each selected with the top overall picks in the 2015 and 2016 WNBA drafts respectively, to provide a good nucleus to build from.

“The people are the ones who drove me to come back. It made it meaningful. With players like Bird, Loyd and Stewart, what’s there not to like? They are exceptional players and great people who have a great chemistry together and know the energy that they bring,” Hughes said.

The situation that Hughes is now in is similar to the one that one of his former assistants, Cheryl Reeve, found herself in back in 2010 when she signed with the Minnesota Lynx. Minnesota had a talented core of young talent that just needed the right coach to develop them when she was hired. Eight years and four titles later, the Lynx dominate the league, something that Valavanis and Hughes are both hoping to replicate in Seattle.

“I didn’t want to come back and rebuild completely,” said Hughes. “I recognize where they are at and that they have the talent to be contenders. As a coach, I am interested in being as good as I can be as quickly as possible.”

When asked about how long he plans on sticking around with the Storm, Hughes stated that he was going to be there longer than one year but he doesn’t have a set length of time on the horizon.

“At my age, I’m locking into the short term. That’s one of the reasons why I think I’m a good fit here. I’m living in the present and driven to be as good as I can be right now. Let’s just say that unlike when I was younger, I don’t have any five-year plans in the works,” he said.

Because work-family balance is important to him, Hughes believes that he has been able to find that balance with the situation he finds himself in Seattle. He will be able to spend the WNBA offseason watching Bryce play basketball at the Air Force Academy and visiting Sara in Florida.

“I’m going to work my tail off during the season, but the offseason offers time for my family. The summer is a busy season in Florida and Bryce is busy with the Academy then so it just worked. It’s a fit,” Hughes said. “I wanted to go back to being a basketball coach but I also want to watch my son play basketball. The WNBA offers that. I’ll invest myself in the summer coaching and teaching basketball and I’ll still have the opportunity to enjoy my family.”

He also admitted that he missed being away from the WNBA this past season.

“I’m excited that I’ll have the chance to visit all of the cities across the league like Minneapolis, San Antonio and New York,” he said. “I still miss some of the cities that aren’t around anymore like Sacramento, Houston, Cleveland and Charlotte.”

As a head coach, Hughes has a 237-287 (.452) record that spans 16 seasons with the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers and San Antonio Stars, and has coached in 40 playoff games during that time. His teams have missed playoff berths during six of those seasons, most of which were during rebuilding phases.

PHOTOS:

_MG_0258 – Dan Hughes listens to a reporter’s question in the press conference after Game 1 of the WNBA Western Conference Semi-Finals in 2014. Photo by Matthew Fleegel/Sportspage Magazine.

_MG_5415 – San Antonio Stars head coach Dan Hughes argues a call with an official during a 2015 game. Photo by Matthew Fleegel/Sportspage Magazine.

_MG_5589 – San Antonio Stars head coach Dan Hughes calls out a play to one of his players during a 2015 game. Photo by Matthew Fleegel/Sportspage Magazine.

_MG_9892_1 – San Antonio Stars head coach Dan Hughes talks things over with guard Becky Hammon during a 2015 game. Hammon is now an assistant coach with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. Photo by Matthew Fleegel/Sportspage Magazine.

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