Season-ending loss to Indiana sealed Mike Thibault's fate
I found it almost comical that both Connecticut Sun CEO Mitch Etess and general manager Chris Sienko said the decision not to bring back Mike Thibault as the WNBA franchise's head coach was not simply a reaction to the listless ending to the season. Then Etess said later in a conference call with the media that if the Sun reached the WNBA final that Thibault would probably be back for an 11th season as the Sun's head coach.
This much is clear, after leading the Sun to eight playoff appearances and four Eastern Conference regular season titles, Thibault is no longer the head coach.
His final game, an 87-71 loss to Indiana in the third and deciding game in the Eastern Conference final was one of the worst during his tenure.
The Sun, for all their regular-season success since relocating from Orlando, had developed a reputation as a team unable to win the big one. Playing at home in the winner take all game in the Eastern Conference final, Connecticut seemed primed to return to the WNBA championship series for the third time and have a realistic shot at their first title.
But seeing an Indiana team, which was playing without injured All-Star Katie Douglas for most of the game, holding a 24-point lead over a listless Sun squad midway through the third quarter seemed to the last straw and the only coach in Connecticut Sun history is suddenly unemployed.
“I don't know that I would attribute it to just that game,” Etess said. “I felt like there was something we needed to do to get us to the expectation level of wanting that championship. We've won a lot of games, we have been to the playoffs quite a bit, put a lot of people in the building but we just felt that at the end of the day we needed to get the championship. There was some intangible missing that had us not at that ceiling and we looked at what we could do to bring that change about and we felt like this is what we could do.”
Both Etess and general manager Chris Sienko said that there were no requests for Thibault’s dismissal from the players.
“The players did not call for this,” Etess said. “This is a business decision we are making in an effort to do what we think we need to do to get the championship.”
Assistant coaches Scott Hawk and Bernadette Mattox, who have been with Thibault since the Sun's first game in 2003, were also let go.
Thibault was hired in March of 2003 shortly after it was announced that the Orlando Miracle franchise was relocating to Connecticut. Thibault posted a 206-134 regular-season record and is just five wins of Van Chancellor’s record for most WNBA regular-season coaching victories. Thibault, a veteran NBA scout and assistant coach, led the Sun to eight playoff appearances including two runs to the WNBA finals but the franchise is still looking for its first WNBA title.
The Sun finished 25-9 during the 2012 season, three games better than eventual WNBA champion Indiana but the Sun lost the last two games to Indiana and had to watch as the Fever won their first WNBA title.
“Nobody liked how the last game turned out and nobody could see it coming at least not on my end, and I don’t think our key players could see it coming,” Thibault said. “There wasn’t a lot of conversation before I went on vacation last week I didn’t know really what to say.
“Nobody wants to win a championship more than me, I don’t care who you are talking about: fans, owner, coaches, players. I came here with a passion to do that, and I am disappointed that we didn’t. But there are a lot of good coaches and players out there in all walks of sport that don’t win championships. It is not a birth right.”
Whoever is hired by the Sun will inherit one of the league's most talented teams led by reigning MVP Tina Charles, former Olympic gold medalists Asjha Jones and Kara Lawson and WNBA Sixth Man of the Year Renee Montgomery.
Connecticut Sun general manager Chris Sienko said that he’d like to have a new coach in place before the WNBA free-agent period starts on Feb. 1.
“Our expectations are to really go hard after the holidays and hopefully we have a decision if we can make it happen within the next month or so,” Sienko said.