- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2012

Albert Lee, a five-year Washington Mystics season ticket holder, was on the fence about renewing his seats. Once he heard the team had fired coach and general manager Trudi Lacey on Monday, he made his decision.

“I hit the renewal button right then and there,” Lee said. “I don’t put it all on [Lacey]. She was part of the organization as an assistant 2009 and 2010 when the team did well, but I think this franchise had to learn the hard way. They blindsided the fans two years ago, and this was the result.”

Owner Sheila Johnson knows she has angered fans with the organization’s recent moves but hopes to win them back by moving in a new direction.

“We have the most dedicated fan base in the WNBA, and they deserve a team that will be competitive against the best in the league,” Johnson said in a telephone interview. “I want to give my fans and my team a chance to succeed.”

Lee and many Mystics fans haven’t gotten past what they deem the organization’s biggest mistake — the dismissal of general manager Angela Taylor and coach Julie Plank following the 2010 season, the best regular season in franchise history.

Under Taylor and Plank, the Mystics went 22-12, although they lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Atlanta Dream. Taylor was not retained, and Plank declined to assume the dual coach/GM role when offered.

“I am still so bitter behind that,” Mystics fan Edward Strand said. “The fact that you would dismantle that team, it’s arrogant. How can you rip the nucleus of a championship team apart and then expect people to be excited about the team?”

Strand is a founding fan who has owned season tickets every year of the Mystics’ existence. Before Lacey’s dismissal Monday, Strand told his sales rep he would not be renewing his seats.

“I am sorry to see anybody lose their job, however this partnership with Trudi Lacey just did not fit the Washington Mystics,” Strand said. “If she was responsible for personnel leaving, I would say about 90 percent of the failures these past two seasons are on her.”

Washington was 11-57 in Lacey’s two years running the team as coach/GM. The Mystics finished 6-28 and 5-29, including a 13-game losing streak to end 2012.

Before her tenure in Washington, Lacey was coach and general manager for the Charlotte Sting from 2003 to 2005. In 21/2 seasons with the Sting, Lacey compiled a 37-55 record. After a 3-21 start in 2005, Lacey stepped down as coach and was replaced on the bench by former NBA star Muggsy Bogues, but she retained her role as general manager. The Sting folded after the 2006 season.

“Maybe the team made the change [to Lacey] to save money,” Strand said. “But you are not saving money when you can’t give away a ticket to a game this year. In the earlier years, even when we were losing, I had people calling me for extra tickets.”

In 2009, the Mystics averaged 11,338 fans per game. That number rose to 12,324 in 2010. But in 2011, the average attendance fell to 10,449. Attendance figures released by the WNBA are based on the number of tickets sold, not the actual number of people who attend the games. Figures have not yet been released for the 2012 season.

Lee and Strand typify the kind of fans the Mystics have been losing. While Johnson gave no timetable to have a new coach and general manager in place, she said the team plans to interview a wide range of candidates. She has not decided if she will choose one person or two to fill the positions.

“We’re looking for the best candidates, and then we’ll make that decision,” Johnson said. Conscious of the fans’ displeasure at the past two seasons, Johnson had a message for them.

“If they will just continue to believe in us,” she said, “we are going to make changes.”

Strand is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“I want to see who they get in the draft,” Strand said. “Then maybe I’ll come back.”

• Carla Peay can be reached at cpeay@washingtontimes.com.

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