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New Phoenix Mercury head coach Nate Tibbetts ‘not worried’ about backlash

(Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

New Phoenix Mercury head coach Nate Tibbetts is “sensitive” to questions of gender bias prompted by his hiring. But after speaking with Mercury players, he isn’t concerned, he said at his introductory press conference Friday.

The Mercury’s decision to hire Tibbetts, 46, who comes to the WNBA with no head coaching experience and no women’s basketball experience, and to make him the highest-paid head coach in the league, led to heated discourse.

In particular, 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, saying: “Gender bias is real.”

“I don’t really live online,” Tibbetts said when asked about the criticism over his hiring. “Me speaking to the players, and them welcoming the way that they have, that’s just made me not worried about things that they’re not worried about, to be completely honest.

“I’m sensitive to the situation. I know I’m one of only three male head coaches in the WNBA. And so I take responsibility for that. I know that people are questioning it, and agree or disagree, I’m going to do the best job that I can and do the best for our players and try to put them in positions to get better and be successful. But that’s my main focus.”

Mercury general manager Nick U’Ren also addressed the criticism at Friday’s press conference.

“We know, as we run a WNBA organization, that diversity and opportunity are critical,” U’Ren said. “I would say our process, our candidate pool and our finalist pool all reflected that.”

Tibbetts takes the reins from interim head coach Nikki Blue. Blue took the helm after Phoenix fired head coach Vanessa Nygaard in June. For U’Ren, the decision not to stick with Blue as the permanent head coach came down to what Tibbetts could bring to the table.

“You could ask me 100 questions about Nikki, and 100 times, I’m not going to tell you negative,” he said. “This ultimately was about Nate brought, not what Nikki or any other candidate didn’t have.”

While this will be Tibbetts’ first time coaching in the WNBA, he has held multiple NBA assistant coaching roles. He joined the Orlando Magic in 2021, and previously worked with the Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers.