(Note from MV: This post originally went up Wednesday. I was trying to “move” it up on my site Thursday but accidentally deleted it. Anyway, I had a copy of the text and reposted it, but lost the previous comments. Sorry about that. I’ve recovered them now, and they are at the end of this post. If you read this, please also read the subsequent post, written Thursday, for additional perspective on the Lynx situation. This piece is very critical of Don Zierden; the other piece presents his response to that. Thanks.)
Tuesday, former Minnesota Lynx coach Don Zierden went through practice … then told his team he was leaving for another job.
Wednesday, Lynx executive VP Roger Griffith introduced new head coach Jennifer Gillom, an assistant to Zierden and a former WNBA player. Both, in the press conference at the Target Center, said that Zierden had helped pave the way for Gillom’s ascension to head coach.
Griffith even went so far as to say, “What we can be proud of here is that Don helped this. He did a great job recognizing that Jennifer had this desire and potential to be a head coach. It’s a credit to his professionalism.”
Oh, absolutely. It takes a real “pro” to quit as head coach four days before his team opens its season. Someone who wasn’t very professional probably would have done it 20 minutes before Saturday’s tipoff, right?
My eyes just about rolled to the back of my head upon hearing of Zierden’s “professionalism.” I understand that Griffith and Gillom certainly weren’t going to say what most of us who follow the WNBA believe, which is that Zierden really never should have been hired by the Lynx in the first place. Remember, this is a guy who, after getting the Lynx job, said he was looking forward to learning more about women’s basketball.
Of course, he was hardly the first WNBA coaching hire to say such a thing, since several NBA coaching wannabes and re-treads have dabbled in the WNBA. They’ve used it as either a potential stepping stone or a way to kill time while still making money.
This isn’t to say that former NBA coaches/players aren’t capable of bringing something to the WNBA, because they can and have. And will continue to. But only if they seriously intend to do the job with full commitment, which means not having your eye on the door to leave the whole time you’re there.
The “commitment” that some of the other NBA career guys have given to the WNBA has had, perhaps, slightly more depth, resonance and sustainability than the average Saturday 2 a.m. hookup at a frat house. Slightly.
It’s hard to imagine the Timberwolves/Lynx officials didn’t know this when they hired Zierden. Thus, him jumping to the Washington Wizards, where his former boss Flip Saunders is now head coach, is the furthest thing from a surprise.
I understand that a lot of people do whatever’s best for them, that this is “a business,” and all that stuff. I know that a team can fire a coach at any point, so there’s a sense of every person for himself or herself. I understand that if Zierden – who stayed two seasons with the Lynx – gets the opportunity to make more money in the far-higher-profile NBA, naturally he’s going to take it. That’s fine.
But what I don’t believe is that Zierden was professional in the way he handled this departure. Saunders reached an agreement with the Wizards on April 14 and was officially announced as head coach a week later. At that point, surely Zierden _ who worked for Saunders with the Timberwolves and the Pistons _ had to have an idea that he might be going to D.C., too.
That was more than a month ago. If Zierden really had high regard for the Lynx and the WNBA, really wanted to be a professional and a stand-up person, he would have accelerated the process of leaving Minnesota. I don’t believe he’d have to tip-toe around his buddy Saunders, afraid if he “pressured” him he might not get the Wizards job. Surely he could have said, “Hey, Flip, I want to work for you again, so I need to give the Lynx time to adjust in training camp to their new head coach.”
Based on the reactions I’ve seen/heard from Lynx fans, they are not disappointed to see Zierden go. But they don’t appreciate him doing it the way he did – as if the bad-timing factor for the Lynx was so colossally unimportant that it didn’t even merit concern. As if the players should be able to adjust overnight to his departure and Gillom’s changed role.
Zierden didn’t explain himself – not talking to Minnesota media Tuesday night and not attending Wednesday’s press conference – so his actions spoke for him.
Now, as for Gillom, she couldn’t have looked more excited. Gillom was a college standout for Van Chancellor at Ole Miss -finishing her career there as a Kodak All-American in 1986 – and then played professionally overseas. She was part of the WNBA’s inaugural season in 1997, spending her first six years in the league with Phoenix. Nicknamed “Grandmama,” Gillom then played a season for Los Angeles.
Gillom’s older sister, Peggie, is a former head coach at Texas A&M who most recently was an assistant at their alma mater, Ole Miss, until she retired last month.
Jennifer Gillom said at Wednesday’s press conference that she’s quite ready to become a head coach.
“What a blessing. I am so happy,” she said. “I really want to thank our owner, Glen Taylor, for giving me this opportunity.
“I played 17 years at the professional level. I’ve been taught by great coaches, and that experience is going to help me a lot. Van Chancellor, my college coach, his share in this would be (showing me) how to coach players and teaching them their roles on a team. The late Kay Yow, who was my Olympic coach, was a great motivator. She taught me how to love the players – scold them, but love them at the same time.”
It’s good to see former WNBA players such as Gillom get the opportunity to coach in the league. Gillom can relate to the players; she’s been in their shoes. When she instructs on how to defend on the low block or the best countermoves with which to score, she’s speaking from personal experience. She’s done it, and done it well.
We all know, though, that having playing experience doesn’t necessarily translate into being a good head coach, so Gillom still has to prove herself in this role. She deserves the chance.
But she should have had it weeks ago.
And the Lynx players should not be having to deal with coaching drama days before starting their season. A true professional need not have put them in that position.
Becky Weinhandl email@example.com
Submitted on 2009/06/03 at 8:58pm
I was totally unaware of all the Zierden haters in Minnesota. And I don’t have any inside knowledge of how the players felt about him. What I noticed was that the team had come closest to living up to it’s potential since the first couple of seasons. I saw the breakdowns on defense (and offense) that happen with most every young team. But there seemed to me, to be a growing sense of the Lynx growing to become what they are capable of. In that regard, I liked Zierden and liked what he was doing with the team.
The style of his departure is insulting for two reasons: he left with only a couple of days before the start of the season and he is another male coach who used this job as a stepping stone to get back into the NBA. The upside is that I am happy for Jennifer Gillom. I hope to see her with the Lynx for a long time and we’re looking forward to the team winning for a change. One thing we can count on… Gillom is not using this job to get into the NBA!
Submitted on 2009/06/03 at 9:53pm
When you don’t respect yourself, don’t be surprised that no one else respects you either. When you hire NBA retreads, you shouldn’t be shocked when they drop you like a hot rock at the first opportunity to get back in the NBA. What Zierdan did was unprofessional, no question, but the Lynx should have known this risk when they hired him.
Submitted on 2009/06/03 at 10:51pm
Well said, Mechelle. As a Lynx season ticket-holder I’m one who is not sorry to see him gone. He was a poor game-day coach. He never REALLY put in the time to get smarter about the women’s game. He was poor at recognizing the strengths of his own plays in order to get the best out of them. More players regressed under him then got better. He was an easy hometown pick after getting let go from the Pistons. This team is much better off without him.
As for how he left, well… There was a more stand-up way to go about this especially w/the youthful team he helped put together. He owned them better then this. As for Ed P. also leaving just because Z left, what a shame. It’s sad he didn’t seem to care enough about the young women who had respect for him to at least continue to assist in the limited capacity till another coach was brought in. Two local boys who done bad.
Submitted on 2009/06/03 at 11:34pm
Hmmmm…….looks like like I’m the only male to respond so far. Well, his departure was very unprofessional. I hope it doesn’t have a negative effect on the players. I’m glad that the true former NBA professionals are representing the WNBA in a high class manner (ex. Shock and Sparks coaches). I love the sport and the coaches should respect it too.
Submitted on 2009/06/03 at 11:35pm
Doesn’t strike me as that much different from Carolyn Peck jumping ship shortly before the 2002 season. This isn’t just a problem with male coaches.
Note from MV: Kevin, please don’t twist what my blog entry was about. There was nothing anti-male in it. I never said anything about there being a problem with male coaches. There is a concern when WNBA teams hire coaches who have no experience with or commitment to the women’s game.
You can critique Carolyn Peck’s coaching or her career decisions if you wish, but she has spent much of her life playing and coaching women’s basketball. Furthermore, my specific criticism of Z was that it wasn’t very professional to leave just FOUR DAYS before the season because I think he could have done it earlier. Peck left the Orlando Miracle for U. of Florida on April 3, 2002. The WNBA regular season started that year on May 25.
submitted on 2009/06/04 at 12:07am
Well good for Jenn, she was ready and waiting for this and I hope she does a great job, she certainly has talent on the team this season. I look forward to seeing what she can do with this team!
Submitted on 2009/06/04 at 12:16am
As soon as heard the news in the press conference I was surprised. And if the first time that the team heard of him leaving was yesterday then that was extremely disrespectful to the the players and the organization. Last year was my first time watching the Lynx and I wasn’t impressed by him as a coach at all. Then I heard other people who’d been fans longer than me constantly complain about him. I hope the girls are able to rebound from this and have a successful year in spite of it.
Submitted on 2009/06/04 at 2:00am
Unprofessional? Yep. Good for the Lynx (in the long run?) BIG “Yep”. Most of these young Lynx players came from programs with stellar coaches (Summit, Auriemma, VanDerveer, etc.) and saw Z for what he was (or wasn’t).
I couldn’t help watching some of their games and thinking any one of THEM could coach their teammates better than Zierden did. Hopefully, they’ll respond favorably and flourish under Gillom. Minnesota is DUE!
submitted on 2009/06/04 at 12:39pm
Great post. You are spot on with your critique of Z’s (and the Lynx’s management’s) behavior. This is yet another example of how the conventional rules of conduct don’t seem to apply to pro athletes and coaches in basketball. The saddest part of all is that kids look up to pro ball players, and are learning that these behaviors are ok…”the coach did it, and there were no consequences for him, so it must be ok”.
Submitted on 2009/06/05 at 12:11am
I think it’s a great opportunity for Gillom. I really like this team—the potential is there.
And when is Pokey coming back to North America? MV, will she ever get a NCAA coaching job?