All Scores

Adrienne Goodson: WNBA’s coaching pipeline has an answer

Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve and assistant Katie Smith huddle up with their team during a game last season. (David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury’s recent head coaching vacancies have reignited discussions about the WNBA’s player-to-coach pipeline. While the league has made progress toward more diversity in the past year, men still filled six of the 12 head coaching jobs in 2021.

Former WNBA All-Star Adrienne Goodson has seen firsthand what the hiring cycle is like, having aspired to enter coaching after her playing career ended in 2005. She looks to Minnesota Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve as an emblem of a more inclusive future in the WNBA. Reeve has been vocal about getting more women and women of color into coaching positions, and what her role is in fostering that growth.

In her own words for Just Women’s Sports, Goodson shares highlights from her recent conversations with Reeve and Lynx assistant coach Katie Smith, what she’s learned about the coaching pipeline over the years and what the league can do to close the gender gap at the top.

***

Cheryl Reeve is a warrior in the push to get more women and women of color into positions of leadership in the WNBA. Since she recognized what she calls a coaching “crisis,” she’s made the decision to hire only women to her coaching staff with the Lynx. She wants to ensure her female assistants are given the same opportunities that James Wade (Chicago Sky, 2019) and Walt Hopkins (New York Liberty, 2020) got when they were hired as head coaches.

When I caught up with Coach Reeve recently, she told me how important it is for women in leadership positions to become the norm, and anything she could do to contribute to that, she would. Because even though she’s in a high place as coach of the Lynx, and now also of the U.S. women’s national team, she still has glass ceilings that she has to bust through. I’m glad she’s had the success that she’s had as a coach so she can sit down at the table with the decision-makers. She’s the change that she wants to see in the league.

As she told me: “I got to a space I never thought of when I had two male assistants. James Wade’s resume was pretty strong in terms of number of years and who he worked with, like Dan Hughes, before he came to Minnesota, so he was ready. My next hire was Walt Hopkins. And we can’t blame him when people wanted to interview and ultimately higher him, but when that moment hit, it’s not a case of anything against Walt Hopkins, it’s more about, OK if I’m a feeder, I’m a feeder to the next head coach opportunities and we’re in crisis mode. I’ve got to make sure that my feeder system includes Black females and females. So I said, while in crisis, we are only going to hire females until we can get a much better representation among our 12 teams. … I wanted to be a part of the solution and that is where the passion came from.”

Coach Reeve’s relationship with Katie Smith is a great example of the player-to-coach pipeline the WNBA can foster. Cheryl coached Katie while they were with the Detroit Shock and got to know Katie’s personality. She said that was so important during the process of bringing her on and her becoming a coach.

Katie was a spitfire on the court. She was very competitive and would do whatever it took to win the game, whether it meant playing the one, the two, the three, the four, the five, if necessary — a couple of times, I remember her being thrown in the post in Minnesota. Cheryl liked that about her, that she could constantly adapt and adjust, and she knew that she would fit in on her coaching staff.

When they let go of Katie in New York, Cheryl said, “Listen, that is not an indication of who you are as a coach,” and she wanted to remind Katie of all of the great things people were saying about her. From there, Cheryl brought her on, and the rest is history. On the court, Cheryl leans on Smith to act as her “buffer,” just as Cheryl did for Bill Laimbeer back in Detroit. Katie appreciates how coordinated the Lynx are as a staff — between her, Cheryl, Plenette Pierson and Rebekkah Brunson — and she believes their history with each other helps with the day-to-day decisions and their overall success.

img
Reeve learned under coach Bill Laimbeer in Detroit before getting the head coaching job in Minnesota. (Dan Lippit/NBAE via Getty Images)

The WNBA is hot right now, and I think they could use more investment dollars toward developing players who want to coach in the future. Let’s stop being the hope that we want to see and actually make it happen. Let’s start walking and living and breathing it like Coach Reeve.

I’ll even throw myself into the pot. I feel any team that hires me in the WNBA is going to be a problem. I have that Marianne Stanley mentality on the court. I’ve been on the men’s side of it, in the NBA’s assistant coaches program. I’ve coached men’s varsity in Newark, N.J. I got a lot of my skills from Wendy Larry at Old Dominion because, in the WNBA offseason, I used to go back and be an assistant coach on her staff. We won the 2005 CAA tournament championship. We got to the Sweet 16.

Former players interested in coaching in the WNBA, like me, have to seek out those opportunities because there’s no pool. You’ve seen more WNBA athletes becoming coaches in the NBA because of the assistant coaches program. The WNBA has to have a pool that also includes the players who are on the outside trying to get in. It seems that you always have to know somebody in order to move up, so it’s a whole lot for us to get back in as coaches or into positions in the front office.

We’ve seen progress in the past year with the Wings hiring Vickie Johnson and the Dream appointing Tanisha Wright. The bigger problem is that there’s no pool, and without it, teams are more inclined to recycle the same coaches.

There has to be communication between former players and the league; it can’t just be players talking to players all the time. And then we have to sit across the table from the higher-ups and come up with viable solutions to what’s going on. I’m not even at retirement age yet. That’s why there was never a conversation about 401Ks or pensions because players are retiring at 38. But it has to be a conversation, just like building the pipeline from player to coach has to be at the forefront.

Based on what I’ve heard and read, I’m pretty confident the Liberty and Mercury are doing their due diligence with the interview process for their head coach openings. I just hope that everybody they felt was a good candidate has gotten an opportunity to showcase themselves.

Adrienne Goodson (“Goody”) is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She played 14 years of professional basketball, including seven in the WNBA. A three-time All-Star in the pros and an NCAA champion, she was inducted into the Old Dominion Hall of Fame in 1999. She is the host of the podcast “A WNBA State of Mind with Adrienne Goodson.” Follow her on Twitter @agoody15_wnba.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.