Connecticut Sun eyeing WNBA's version of Jon Gruden
Tony Dungy did a remarkable job taking one of the NFL's laughingstock franchises and turned them into a perennial playoff team and Super Bowl contender. But despite leading Tampa Bay to five straight playoff appearances, he was cut loose after the 2001 season. The Bucs' hierarchy lured Jon Gruden away from the Oakland Raiders (at a hefty price). Gruden, which a team made up primarily of Dungy's players, won the Super Bowl the following season. Nobody will ever know whether Tampa would have won the title under Dungy's watch but certainly the coaching change did seem to pay immediate dividends.
Whoever takes over the Sun has all the pieces in place to emulate what happened with the Buccaneers a decade ago.
Reigning WNBA MVP Tina Charles is in the prime of her career, veterans Asjha Jones and Kara Lawson have proven they have plenty of basketball left to play and Renee Montgomery is another dynamic offensive performer. That's a pretty good nucleus to build upon. The Sun also hold the rights to Spain's Alba Torrens and Great Britain's Jo Leedham (a former Cheshire Academy star) so perhaps one of them could fill the biggest weakness on the Connecticut roster - a scoring small forward.
Personally, I think Thibault did a remarkable job with the Sun. When the franchise was in Orlando, it had a reputation of being an underachieving bunch. When the franchise moved to Connecticut in 2003, Thibault's background was on the CBA and NBA side of things but he quickly turned the Sun into one of the best teams in the WNBA. Thibault led the Sun to eight playoff appearances, four Eastern Conference regular-season titles and back to back trips to the WNBA championship series. However, the Sun gained a reputation of not being able to win the big one. The way the Sun got blown off the court by eventual WNBA champion Indiana in the winner-take-all third game of the Eastern Conference final this year did little to change the notion that the Sun didn't have what it takes to win it all.
Thibault won 206 regular-season games with the Sun, five shy of former Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor's WNBA record and will leave with a legacy as one of the greatest coaches in WNBA history. Thibault's coaching style wasn't for everybody and whether it was his fault or not, the list of stars who left the Sun (Nykesha Sales, Katie Douglas, Lindsay Whalen, Taj McWilliams-Franklin) reads like a who's who. He was unrelenting in challenging every single call made by the officials even the ones that were clearly correct which always made me wonder if it impacted the Sun's ability to get its share of the 50-50 calls and some of his decisions on draft day raised an eyebrow or two but in the end he did some amazing things in his 10 seasons with the Sun.
Whoever is hired is walking into a pretty good deal. The Sun's fan base is one of the best in the WNBA and as I previously mentioned, the returning talent is certainly good enough to make a run at the WNBA title.
The Sun can only hope that the new coach is able to pay dividends as quickly as Jon Gruden did with the Buccaneers back in 2002.