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Next WNBA head coaches: Our list of 12 leading candidates

While ex-Mercury coach Sandy Brondello is firmly on the market, Chasity Melvin is also on the rise. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

With two WNBA head coaching positions opening up last week, the offseason discussion has shifted to who might be next in line for the top jobs.

In two surprising moves last Monday, the New York Liberty moved on from coach Walt Hopkins and the Phoenix Mercury parted ways with Sandy Brondello. I would expect the teams to fill these vacancies quickly with free agency approaching in early 2022. Between current franchise openings and the jobs that league expansion would create, there are quite a few names worthy of consideration and discussion.

While the impending retirements of several WNBA stars has led to some imaginative picks (think: Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi), I focused this list on individuals who have substantial coaching experience at various levels and have a strong case for a head coaching job now and into the future.

Sandy Brondello

The Mercury did not renew Brondello’s contract, which expired after their run to the 2021 WNBA Finals. Now, it is hard to imagine the experienced Brondello not being at the top of the Liberty’s candidate pool. Under her guidance, the Mercury won their third WNBA championship in 2014 and compiled a 150-108 record over eight seasons. Brondello has coached in the league since 2005, making stops in San Antonio and Los Angeles before taking over in Phoenix, and has been the head coach of the Australian women’s national team since 2017.

Given her international ties and ability to develop young players, I could see the Liberty taking an immediate interest in the 53-year-old. If not New York, potential expansion teams could come calling in the near future.

Eric Thibault

For those following the WNBA, Eric Thibault’s name on this list should come as no surprise. Thibault has been in numerous conversations for head coaching vacancies over the last three years, including those for the Liberty and Dallas Wings. The young coach has assisted his father, Mike Thibault, with the Washington Mystics for the past nine years.

The most obvious scenario would be for Eric to take over as Mystics head coach when his father retires, but an outside team could very well take a gamble on him sooner. Eric has the experience of a WNBA championship run and a great reputation among his peers; it’s just a matter of time before we see him in the head coach’s chair.

Teresa Weatherspoon

Weatherspoon is likely one of the most sought-after candidates among WNBA teams. For her, it’s a matter of which direction she wants to take her career at this point. A legend in the women’s game, Weatherspoon has served as an assistant coach for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans since 2020. Prior to her time in the NBA, she coached at Louisiana Tech, the same program she historically led to a national championship as a player in 1988.

Weatherspoon has 10 years of coaching experience, including five as a head coach. Her reputation as one of the greatest to ever play in the WNBA precedes her, and her ability to relate to players would be a great fit for the Liberty’s young and talented roster or the Mercury’s veteran team that’s approaching the post-Diana Taurasi era.

Olaf Lange

Lange has been with the Chicago Sky since 2019, and after the Sky’s run to the 2021 championship, it wouldn’t be surprising for teams to consider him for head coaching positions. Known as a players’ coach, Lange has nearly 30 years of experience behind the bench, including internationally with the German and Australian national teams and UMMC Ekaterinburg. He led the European powerhouse to five-straight Russian championships and two EuroLeague championships.

Lange is also married to Brondello, the former Mercury coach. Could we see the power couple on the same bench in the near future? It has happened before, when Lange launched his WNBA career as associate head coach to Brondello in 2007. The two have also worked together on the coaching staff of the Australian national team.

Pokey Chatman

The former Sky and Indiana Fever head coach has been patiently biding her time since her departure from the Fever in 2019. Chatman has extensive experience, from the college game at LSU to international play with Spartak Moscow, having led the club to their fourth straight EuroLeague championship in 2010.

As Sky head coach from 2010-16, Chatman led the franchise to its first WNBA Finals appearance in 2014. Chatman’s fingerprint remains on the Sky organization, most notably drafting Courtney Vandersloot and seeing the potential in Allie Quigley. Though Chatman’s time in Indiana was short-lived and underwhelming, the former coach and GM has a proven ability to identify talent, manage players and lead teams to deep playoff runs when in the right situation. She should be one of the top candidates for any WNBA openings in the near future.

Latricia Trammell

Trammell’s reputation has positioned her as one of the most sought-after assistants in the WNBA. Her impressive resume includes over 30 years of coaching experience and two national championships at the NAIA level.

Trammell has spent the last three seasons as an assistant under Los Angeles Sparks head coach Derek Fisher. Her defensive-minded approach is an asset in the competitive WNBA. The Sparks have finished in the top three in defensive rating every year she has been with the team. Under Trammell, Candace Parker won Defensive Player of the Year in 2020, Brittney Sykes was named First and Second Team All-Defense in 2019 and 2021 and Nneka Ogwumike was First Team All-Defense in 2019.

Katie Smith has experience has a head coach and has had success on Cheryl Reeve's staff. (Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Katie Smith

Following her impressive playing career in the WNBA, which included seven All-Star nods and two championships, Smith began her coaching career in 2014 as an assistant under Bill Laimbeer in New York. Smith took over as the Liberty’s head coach for two seasons after Laimbeer left for Las Vegas. After the Liberty went 17-51 from 2018-19, the organization did not renew her contract and Smith joined the Minnesota Lynx staff as an assistant coach.

With Smith on Cheryl Reeve’s staff, the Lynx have compiled a 36-18 regular season record over the past two seasons and finished fourth in the league standings in 2020 and third in 2021. Smith’s head coaching experience was short-lived, with minimal support at the time, but I fully expect a team to give her another shot soon.

Chasity Melvin

Melvin just wrapped up her second season as an assistant coach in the WNBA with the Mercury. After a twelve-year playing career, her trajectory fits the model of former players transitioning into assistants and, eventually, head coaching roles.

Before making the jump into WNBA coaching, Melvin was a 2018 graduate of the NBA’s Player Development Assistant Coaches Program. The Charlotte Hornets then hired her as an assistant for their G-league team, the Greensboro Swarm, making her the organization’s first female coach. After playing a key role in the Mercury’s run to the WNBA Finals this past season, Melvin was named head coach of Mexican club Correcaminos for the 2022 United Cup of Champions. She is a prime candidate for a future head coaching job if she continues down this path.

Vanessa Nygaard

With a growing coaching resume that includes stops at nearly every level of the game, Nygaard is building a convincing case for a lead WNBA position. After a standout playing career at Stanford, Nygaard was drafted by the Liberty in 1998 and began a six-year WNBA career. As an assistant, she’s coached at Cal State Long Beach and Pepperdine before serving on the staffs of the San Antonio Silver Stars and the Mystics. In 2020, she was named Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year after leading the Windward School (Los Angeles) girls basketball program to a 27-6 record that season. Nygaard has also coached for USA Basketball, serving as an assistant on the U17 team that went undefeated and won a gold medal at the 2018 FIBA World Cup.

Currently, the Scottsdale, Ariz. native is an assistant on Laimbeer’s staff with the Aces. In a couple of more years, I think there’s a strong chance we see Nygaard as a WNBA head coach.

Brandi Poole

Between her time in college and the WNBA, Poole has 23 years of assistant coaching experience. She has spent most of those seasons with Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller, from 11 seasons at Bowling Green to two at Indiana and the past four with the Sun.

Poole’s experience is one thing, but the time she’s spent learning from one of the best coaches in the women’s game sets her apart. Her ability to scout talent, develop young players and build relationships across multiple staffs has primed Poole for her own opportunity if she wishes to go in that direction.

Stephanie White

A team looking for a seasoned veteran to lead their coaching staff would be hard-pressed not to consider White, who has an extensive coaching record between college and the pros. White spent six years playing in the WNBA before launching an 18-year coaching career as an assistant for three college programs and then for the Sky and Fever. She helped guide the Fever to their first WNBA championship in 2012 and took the helm after Lin Dunn retired.

White left the Fever in 2016 for the head coaching position at Vanderbilt, where she was unable to find much traction in five seasons. After parting ways with the program in April, White has served as a college basketball analyst. But with her deep coaching roots and 10 years of WNBA experience, we might not have to wait long to see her back behind the bench.

Crystal Robinson

Robinson has been a part of the WNBA since its inception and holds over 10 years of coaching experience at the high school, collegiate and professional levels, most recently on Brian Agler’s Wings staff from 2019-20. Following her nine-year ABL/WNBA playing career, Robinson was an assistant with the Mystics before guiding McAlester High School to a state championship in Oklahoma. She’s also served as a collegiate assistant at Utah State and TCU and as a head coach at Murray State Community College.

Given Robinson’s coaching resume, the chances seem high that she returns to the league in some capacity. If she could get in as an assistant and produce a few consistent seasons, she certainly has the credentials to be a future head coach.

Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.