Nate Tibbetts ‘willing to learn’ as Mercury head coach

Oct 21, 2023, 6:58 AM

Nate Tibbetts, Magic assistant and current Mercury head coach...

Assistant Coach Nate Tibbetts and Jalen Suggs #4 of the Orlando Magic watch video during a shoot around before a game against the Chicago Bulls on November 18, 2022 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Mercury hiring Nate Tibbetts as the team’s new head coach sparked controversy that had little to do with the long-time NBA assistant. The former Orlando Magic coach became one of three male coaches in the WNBA and, according to reports, is the highest-paid WNBA coach in the league.

Given Tibbetts has no WNBA experience, the hire is one that many around the league led by Black women don’t completely agree with. Many argue that the organization should have gone a different route.

With the Mercury finishing with the worst record in the WNBA this past season at 9-31, Tibbetts is “willing to learn” as he takes on a new role in a new environment.

“This is a new league for me. I want to be educated … I want to hear about the growth of this league. I want to hear and understand the struggles that they’ve gone through,” Tibbetts said during his introduction Friday. “I know I’ve got some things to learn when it comes to the WNBA, but I’ve got a lot of belief in my basketball knowledge, experiences that I’ve seen.”

After tying a league-worst 2-10 start to the 2023 season, the Mercury fired head coach Vanessa Nygaard and appointed assistant coach Nikki Blue to serve as interim head coach.

Blue was one of the top names for the coaching position given her ability to work with an injured Mercury roster throughout this past season. Many wanted to see what Blue was capable of with a healthy roster and a new season.

The hire of Tibbetts over Blue sparked controversy among the Mercury fanbase, especially since the organization went with a male with no WNBA experience over a woman with plenty.

Nate is an excellent basketball coach and an even better person,” first-year general manager Nick U’Ren. “I am excited to work with him as we build an organization that our players, fans and community will be proud of. His knowledge of the game and commitment to creating a winning culture on and off the floor will be invaluable as we lead the Mercury into our next championship era.”

The Mercury has had a decorated history, with players such as Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, two of the greatest players in WNBA history, and three titles to their name. Tibbetts is now the 12th head coach in franchise history,

U’Ren insisted that although the hiring was more “what Nate brought and not what Nikki or any other candidate didn’t have,” the organization still values diversity and opportunity.

“We know as we run a WNBA organization that diversity and opportunity are critical,” U’Ren said. “In my introductory press conference, I mentioned how excited I was to join this league because I aligned with the players and what they stand for, I believe in the values that they stand for (and) I believe in what this league represents. None of that has faded.

“Now, I’m excited for us to take action in terms of building a basketball operations staff and a coaching staff that reflects that diversity and provides opportunity to people of all backgrounds.”

Despite plenty of criticism over the hiring, Mercury players have voiced their support for the 46-year-old head coach. Taurasi sat front row at his press conference Friday.

Tibbetts doesn’t worry about what people have to say online, yet he’s aware of how his hiring could be perceived.

“Me speaking to the players and them welcoming me the way they have, that’s just made me not worry about things that they’re not worried about,” Tibbetts said. “I’m sensitive to the situation. I know I’m one of three male head coaches in the WNBA and so I take responsibility for that.

“I know people are questioning it. Agree or disagree, I’m going to do the best job that I can.”

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