Vanessa Nygaard’s ‘unconventional’ path to Mercury head coaching job

Jan 24, 2022, 8:00 PM

(Twitter photo/Phoenix Mercury)...

(Twitter photo/Phoenix Mercury)

(Twitter photo/Phoenix Mercury)

The Phoenix Mercury named Vanessa Nygaard their newest head coach on Monday.

While this is Nygaard’s first WNBA head coaching position, she is not new to leading teams with championship aspirations.

Nygaard won two high school state titles as the head coach of Windward School in Los Angeles after she was an assistant coach for multiple WNBA teams.

“I took an unconventional path,” Nygaard said in her introductory press conference. “I needed to get reps as a head coach and nobody was going to give me those. I tried at the collegiate level, and I couldn’t get them. And so that was where I could get them.”

She was named the Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year for 2019-20.

Nygaard said it has been a dream of hers to coach in the WNBA dating back to when she played in the league (1999-2003).

She said in the press conference that it felt like she maxed out what she could accomplish at the high school level, and she returned to the WNBA sideline as an assistant under Las Vegas Aces coach Bill Laimbeer last season.

Now with a chance to lead her own WNBA squad, Nygaard does not lack confidence.

“Being the head coach is really different than being an assistant,” Nygaard said. “I’m confident in understanding the roles and responsibilities and the pressures that a head coach feels that are very different from an assistant. If you’ve heard before, an assistant makes suggestions and the head coach has to make decisions. And I know how to make those decisions.”

Nygaard takes over for former head coach Sandy Brondello, who was with Phoenix for eight seasons. She is now the head coach of the New York Liberty.

Mercury general manager Jim Pitman told reporters that the organization wanted a head coach with experience coaching multiple levels of basketball who is a great communicator and relationship builder.

“We believe we found the best person to lead our team but also the one who fits the best with our culture and our goals,” Pitman said.

She also has experience coaching Team USA youth teams and college athletes.

Nygaard said the first thing she’s done as head coach is connect with the Mercury players. That’s a priority of hers and she has already started getting to know them.

The Mercury are a veteran team fresh off losing in the WNBA Finals. Nygaard is eager to learn from the group while helping to push them one step further.

She also feels that she can connect with players because she was one and had various roles at different stages of her playing days.

“I know all the struggles that the players go through, also the management of your life with the challenges of being a professional athlete,” Nygaard said. “So to be able to identify with them, and also to be able to push them because you know what it’s really like, I think that’s an important skill that I bring.”

Her next steps involve finalizing her staff for next season.

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