After a combined 11-55 record in two seasons under Trudi Lacey, the Washington Mystics hired Mike Thibault as their coach and general manager Tuesday.
Thibault becomes the team’s 13th head coach and the seventh general manager. Thibault spent the past 10 seasons as coach of the Connecticut Sun and led them to eight playoff appearances and two WNBA finals. He was Coach of the Year in 2006 and ‘08, and his 206 wins are more than any active coach in the WNBA. He is second on the all-time wins list.
“When I left Connecticut, I had a lot of things to think about and what I wanted to do, and the opportunities that were out there,” Thibault said. “And this fit. It fit in a whole bunch of ways for me, for my family, and I hope that it’s a fit for everybody involved in this organization.
“For all the fans that are out there, that have been off the bandwagon, jumped off, the wagon’s big enough to jump back on. We’ll take all comers to come back on, but we have a lot to prove and we know that. There’s no miracles. It’s about hard work.”
The Mystics do have a lot of hard work ahead and a lot of improvements to make.
Washington has just six playoff appearances in its 15-year history and has made it to the conference finals just once, in 2002.
Its best regular-season record is 22-12, which came in 2010 when the Mystics were swept in the first round of the playoffs.
That also was the last year they had a separate coach and general manager, in Julie Plank and Angela Taylor. Neither was retained after the season, to the anger of fans who still are upset about it, and believe the move signaled the team’s decline the past two seasons.
Thibault has a few ideas of what needs to change after last year’s 5-29 season.
“I think the first step is to improve the current players’ individual skills,” Thibault said. “I think you start there. It’s nice to have a pie in the sky about, ‘I’d like to get this and I’d like to get that.’ You have somebody there already in front of you, and you need to get them to reach their maximum potential.”
The Mystics have the fourth pick in the WNBA Draft, which will be held in April. The team had the best chance at the top pick, but wound up with the fourth pick, giving them virtually no chance at any one of this year’s game changing college prospects – Baylor’s Brittney Griner, Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins and Delaware’s Elena Della Donne.
Mystics fans were crestfallen when they wound up fourth, but Thibault is looking at the bright side.
“I know that there were a lot of long faces here when the lottery took place,” Thibault said. “It’s not all that bleak. There are good players and the fourth pick is an asset. It depends how you use it. There are good players out there. It can traded. It can be used for a lot of things.”
Thibault is likely to make a number of roster changes, but wasn’t ready to delve into specifics just yet. With the worst record in the WNBA, almost anyone could be on the trade block. After Thibault spoke, owner Ted Leonsis, who did not take questions, did make a brief statement, taking a moment to lighten the mood.
“Other than our defense and our offense and our foul shooting and our turnovers,” Leonsis joked, “we’ve given Mike everything he needs to to be successful.”