The transition from basketball player to basketball coach is not uncommon. In the 2018 season, one of the WNBA’s most prolific players becomes the latest former WNBA player to take the helm of a team as WNBA head coach. Katie Smith played 15 years in the league before retiring at the end of the 2013 season and joining the New York Liberty as an assistant on Bill Laimbeer’s staff. This summer, she will lead the staff as head coach of the Liberty. To continue featuring storied players, in this post I am focusing on WNBA players who have also been the head coach of a WNBA team.
Starting with someone who has been a part of the league since its first season, Jenny Boucek played for and has been the head coach of multiple teams. A four-year started on the University of Virginia women’s basketball (1992 – 1996), Boucek helped take the Cavaliers to three NCAA Elite Eight games while taking all four ACC regular season championships during her time in Charlottesville. She played overseas in Iceland and was named the league’s Foreign Player of the Year in 1997 after leading Keflavík to a league title. Boucek was a member of the Cleveland Rockers in the WNBA’s first season (1997), but a back injury led to her retirement from playing in 1998, leading directly in to her coaching career.
Boucek was an assistant for the Washington Mystics (1999), Miami Sol (2000 – 2002), and Seattle Storm (2003 – 2005) — including their 2004 championship season — before getting her first head coaching job for the Sacramento Monarchs. The team went 42 – 45 during her tenure, including two trips to the Western Conference semifinals, losing to San Antonio in 2007 and 2008. After being let go in July of the 2009 season, Boucek returned to the Seattle Storm as an assistant under Brian Agler in 2010, where she remained and would ultimately get her second head coaching gig starting in 2015. Before again being dismissed mid-season in 2017, Boucek compiled a 36 – 59 record, including a first-round loss to the Atlanta Dream in 2016 after failing to qualify for the playoffs in 2015. Just two months later, she returned to Sacramento as player development coach for the Sacramento Kings.
Jennifer Gillom was also featured as a member of the Initial Player Allocation, and she makes this list as well. She played in the first six seasons of the league, most prominently for the Phoenix Mercury, where she made the All-WNBA First Team in 1998 and was named an All-Star in 1999. After playing collegiately at Ole Miss from 1982 to 1986, Gillom was a member of the gold medal-winning USA teams at the 1986 World Championship, 1987 Pan American Games, and 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
After serving as an assistant for the 2008 Minnesota Lynx, Gillom took over as head coach in 2009, completing the season 14 – 20 and missing the playoffs. She moved on to take over head coaching duties in Los Angeles in 2010 but was let go 10 games in to the 2011 season, finishing with a 17 – 29 record with the Sparks, including being swept by the eventual champions Seattle Storm in the Western Conference semifinals in 2010. She would round out her WNBA career as an assistant on the Mystics staff in 2012 and as an assistant in Connecticut from 2013 to 2015. During this time, she was also an assistant for Team USA, including gold medal wins in the 2010 World Championship and 2012 Olympics in London.
Penny Toler is known as the long-time general manager of the Los Angeles Sparks, a position she stepped in to after retiring as a player in 1999 after playing for the Sparks for the first three seasons of the league. She has the distinction of also having the first field goal and first free throw in the WNBA. Prior to her pro career, Toler was an All-American and two-time competitor in the NCAA Final Four at Long Beach State University under head coach Joan Bonvicini. Her time as head coach in the league was short; she took over the struggling Sparks after Carol Ross was let go mid-season in 2014. Toler would finish out the season 6 – 8, including being swept by the eventual champion Phoenix Mercury in the Western Conference semifinals.
Cynthia Cooper‘s time as a player in the league is well-documented and covered previously in my post on the Initial Player Allocation. The four-time WNBA champion, regular season MVP, and Finals MVP for the Houston Comets coached the Mercury for a season-and-a-half from 2001 to 2002 before later returning for one last season for the Comets in 2003. During her time in Phoenix, Cooper compiled a 19 – 23 record, failing to reach the playoffs in 2001.
Another player turned coach present since the start of the league is Vickie Johnson, the former Lady Techster (1992 – 1996) who led Louisiana Tech to the 1994 NCAA Championship Game before going on to being drafted 12th by the New York Liberty in 1997. She was named an All-Star in 1999 and 2001 before signing with San Antonio in 2006, finishing out her playing career with the Silver Stars in 2009. Her playing time included stints with seven different teams in France, Israel, Italy, Hungary, and Turkey.
Johnson turned to coaching as an assistant for six seasons under Dan Hughes before he stepped down following the 2016 season. She transitioned into her one-year contract as head coach for the 2017 season, what would be the Stars’ last season in San Antonio and their fifth consecutive losing season at 8 – 26 and third straight out of the playoffs. With the franchise’s relocation to Las Vegas, Bill Laimbeer was brought on as head coach, and Vickie is slated to return to assistant coaching duties for the Aces this summer.
Nancy Lieberman is objectively a living legend in women’s basketball. She played collegiately at Old Dominion University, winning the Wade Trophy twice and named a Kodak All-American her three last years in college while leading her school to AIAW National Championships in 1979 and 1980. She went on to play professionally in the United States in both the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WPBL) for the Dallas Diamonds and the United States Basketball League (USBL) — which was predominantly a male league — for the Springfield Fame and Long Island Knights.
In 1997 she played for the Mercury, and subsequently was hired as GM and head coach of the expansion team Detroit Shock. During her tenure, the Shock made the playoffs once (1999) and had an overall 46 – 49 record, including a loss to Charlotte in their lone playoff game. She has gone on to a longer coaching career in the NBA, having coached the Texas Legends in the NBA Development League (2009 – 2011) before being hired as an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings starting in July 2015.
Also a one-time coach of the Shock, Teresa Edwards led the franchise during their time in Tulsa. Before her time as head coach, Edwards was a two-time All-American while playing for the Georgia Lady Bulldogs, helping get them to the Final Four in 1983 and 1985. Edwards competed in five Olympics, earning four gold medals (1984, 1988, 1996, 2000) and one bronze (1992). She played professionally in the United States in the ABL, playing and serving as head coach of the Atlanta Glory from 1996 to 1998 before being traded to the Philadelphia Rage for the 1998 season.
Edwards time in the WNBA as a player was comprised of two seasons in Minnesota (2003 – 2004), where she would later serve as an assistant coach in 2007. She was also an assistant in Tulsa in 2011 before being promoted to interim head coach midway through the season, inheriting Nolan Richardson’s 1 – 10 team. Edwards would close out the season 2 – 21, including a 20-game losing streak.
The next player-turned-coach has the distinction of being the first WNBA player to go on to be named WNBA Coach of the Year. Suzie McConnell-Serio was a standout guard at Penn State from 1984 to 1988, named First-Team All-American and winning the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award in 1988. She graduated as the NCAA record holder for career assists (1,307), assists-per-game in a season (11.8 in 1987), and career triple doubles (7). Her post-collegiate career included Olympic gold in 1988 and bronze in 1992 as well as a World Championship in 1986.She went on to play three seasons in Cleveland (1998 – 2000), named to the All-WNBA First Team in her rookie year in the league, and twice winning the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award (1998, 2000).
McConnell-Serio went on to coach the Minnesota Lynx for four seasons (2003 – 2006), leading the Lynx to their first playoff appearance in 2003 after finishing 18 – 16 and named Coach of the Year in the League in 2004 after returning to the postseason. After a down season-and-a-half, she resigned in 2006, finishing her time as head coach with an overall 59 – 71 record. She went on to coach collegiately at Duquesne (2007 – 2013) and Pittsburgh (2013 – 2018).
Indiana basketball long featured Stephanie White, the 1999 Wade Trophy winner and national champion at Purdue University in 1999. She was drafted out of college by the Charlotte Sting but spent the majority of her career in Indiana after the Fever joined the league (2000 – 2004). White went on to several years as an assistant coach at the college level before returning to the WNBA as an assistant coach on the Chicago Sky staff (2007 – 2010) and then on Lin Dunn’s staff back in Indiana from 2011 to 2014, including the 2012 championship run.
After Lin Dunn stepped down from coaching, Stephanie took over as head coach of the Fever in 2015 and 2016. In her first year, Indiana finished 20 – 14 and reached the WNBA Finals, losing to the Lynx in five games. She left the Fever after the 2016 season to take the head coaching position at Vanderbilt University that fall, finishing with an overall 43 – 37 record.
Only one WNBA player remains head coach in the league, and she has seen success from both angles. Sandy Brondello played ten seasons in Australia’s Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL), named Australian Basketball Player of the Year in 1992 and MVP of the WNBL in 1995 while with the Brisbane Blazers. She also had success in Germany as part of BTV Wuppertal from 1992 to 2002. Brondello was drafted in the fourth round of the 1998 WNBA Draft by the Detroit Shock, where she would be named an All-Star in 1999. She also played in Miami and Seattle before ending her playing career in 2003.
Brondello quickly transitioned in to coaching, serving as an assistant in San Antonio from 2005 to 2009 before landing her first head coaching gig in 2010. She finished the 2010 regular season 14 – 20, losing to Phoenix in the Western Conference semifinals 0 – 2. She spent 2011 – 2013 as an assistant in Los Angeles before starting her second stint as head coach, this time in Phoenix. In her first season, she was named Coach of the Year, finished the regular season 29 – 5 (which is still the WNBA’s highest single-season win total), and swept the Chicago Sky in the WNBA Finals to win Phoenix’s third WNBA Championship. She is still active as the head coach of the Mercury; in her four seasons, she has compiled an overall 96 – 62 record and playoff appearances each year.
This leads us to Katie Smith, the latest player-turned-coach in the WNBA. Smith was a standout at The Ohio State University, leading the Buckeyes to the 1992 NCAA National Championship Game. She played for the Columbus Quest of the ABL in 1996 and 1997, winning both of the league’s championships. She was then selected by the Lynx in the 1999 WNBA Draft; she would play in Minnesota through 2005, named to the All-WNBA First Team in 2001 and 2003 as well as appearing in the All-Star game from 2000 to 2003 and again in 2005. After being traded to the Shock, she won two championships in Detroit (2006 and 2008) and earned two more All-Star nods. In 2008, she was also named Finals MVP.
During this time, she also represented the United States in the Olympics, bringing home three gold medals (2000, 2004, 2008). She finished out her professional career with stints with the Mystics, Storm, and Liberty. She rounded out her career with 6,452 points, the WNBA’s all-time leader at the time. She has since been passed by Diana Taurasi, Tina Thompson, Tamika Catchings, and Cappie Pondexter, but her combined ABL and WNBA points (7,885) still leads all players. (Taurasi is not far behind that figure, with 7,867 entering the 2018 season.
Smith spent the last four seasons as an assistant to Bill Laimbeer with the New York Liberty, where she will take on her first season as head coach this summer.