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Muffet McGraw and WNBA fans call out Phoenix Mercury ‘Girl Dad’ hire

Nate Tibbetts speaks with Orlando Magic guard Jalen Suggs before a game in November 2022. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Nate Tibbetts is the new head coach for the Phoenix Mercury. But his hiring has been greeted with heated discourse over gender bias.

Despite coming to the WNBA with no head coaching experience and no women’s basketball experience, Tibbetts, 46, is set to become the highest-paid coach in the league, ESPN reported. He succeeds interim head coach Nikki Blue, who took the helm after Phoenix fired head coach Vanessa Nygaard in June.

Former Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw took to social media following the news to call out the inequities baked into the coaching pipeline.

“Breaking news: white man hires white man to coach WNBA team AND makes him the highest paid coach in the league. Gender bias is real,” she wrote. “95% of men’s sport coaches r male and 60% of women’s sport coaches r male- title IX is 50 yet we don’t have equal oppty, equal pay or equal rights.”

This isn’t the first time McGraw has called out this issue. Back in 2020, she spoke with The Athletic about the “coaching crisis” in women’s basketball, pointing out the shift in the head coaching ranks from women to men.

In 2020, just four of the 12 head coaches in the WNBA were women. And there was just one Black female coach in the league. The league has shifted since then; at the end of the 2023 season, nine of the 12 coaches in the league were women, and three of them were Black.

Up until Tibbetts’ hiring, Becky Hammon was the highest-paid head coach in the league – and with the Aces winning back-to-back titles in her first two seasons, a pay raise may be in her future.

For now, though, Hammon will be dethroned as the highest-paid coach by Tibbetts. And while he could turn out to be exactly what Phoenix needs, his hiring by new Mercury owner Mat Ishbia — and his new general manager Nick U’Ren — has raised eyebrows.

“I really believe that people hire people who look like them,” McGraw told The Athletic in 2020.

To add to the furor, the Mercury used the moniker “girl dad” to describe Tibbetts in their social media announcement of his hire, as if that is a relevant qualification for a head coach of a professional basketball league.

“Imagine if Boy Mom was a qualification for coaching in the WNBA,” wrote one social media user.

“You’re touting being a ‘Girl Dad’ as a qualification? You’re hiring someone with zero experience in the women’s game? AND you’re announcing it the night of Game 4?” wrote USA Today Sports columnist Nancy Armour. “Tell me you don’t care about women’s sports without telling me you don’t care about women’s sports.”