On April 24, 1996, women’s basketball announced “We Got Next” as the NBA Board of Governors approved the concept of a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) to begin play in June 1997. Since then, the WNBA has been the home for the best women’s basketball talent in the world. With the league celebrating its 25th season in 2021, take a look back at WNBA’s bright history.
The league has seen some of the greatest female basketball coaches including Nancy Lieberman, Lin Dunn, Cheryl Reeve and Pokey Chatman.
There has been 82 Head Coaches since the beginning in the league, with 42 female Head Coaches, that’s 51%.
For the 2021 Season, there are 5 female Head Coaches across the 12 teams (42%) – read their biographies below:
Nicki Collen – Head Coach @ Atlanta Dream
Nicki Collen was named head coach of the Atlanta Dream on October 30, 2017.
In her first season at the helm, Collen led the Dream to franchise-best 23-11 record and the No. 2 overall seed entering the 2018 WNBA Playoffs. For her work, the first-year head coach was named WNBA Coach of the Year. Her 2018 team tied a franchise-best 13 home wins and won 10 games on the road, the most ever by a Dream squad.
Collen came to the Dream after pair of successful seasons as an assistant coach for the Connecticut Sun. Working for 2017 WNBA Coach of the Year Curt Miller, Collen helped the Sun compile an impressive 21-13 record and finished with the fourth-best regular season record in the WNBA, earning the franchise’s first postseason appearance since 2012. Connecticut, who lost former No. 1 pick Chiney Ogwumike to injury prior to the 2017 season, improve on a 14-20 record in 2016.
Prior to moving to Connecticut, Collen served under head coach Karl Smesko at Florida Gulf Coast. Joining the staff in July of 2014, Collen helped guide the Eagles to consecutive 30-win seasons. The 2015-16 team recently completed a 33-6 campaign with a trip to the WNIT Championship game, where it was edged by South Dakota on April 2nd. The 2014-15 Eagles were 31-3 with a 26-game winning streak and an undefeated record in the Atlantic Sun Conference. That team also made history with its first Division I national ranking and its first NCAA Tournament victory, a 75-67 win over 10th-seeded Oklahoma State.
Before moving to FGCU, Collen enjoyed great success as an assistant coach at Arkansas, Louisville, Ball State and Colorado State. During her nine seasons as an assistant coach at the collegiate level, Collen helped teams reached three NCAA tournaments and five WNITs.
Collen played one year of professional basketball with the BCM Alexandros team in Greece.
As a player at Purdue, Collen was a member of Big 10 championship teams that advanced to the Final Four in 1994 and the Elite Eight in 1995. Collen transferred to Marquette as a junior, competing in two more NCAA tournaments while also securing a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Collen and her husband Tom have three children, Connor, Reese and Logan.
SOURCE: Atlanta Dream
Marianne Stanley – Head Coach @ Indiana Fever
As a college coach, Stanley posted a 415-224 record 21 seasons, winning a pair of AIAW championships (1979 and 1980) as well as an NCAA crown (1985) as the head coach at Old Dominion University. She also coached at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Southern California, Stanford University and the University of California. In 2007, she assisted C. Vivian Stringer during Rutgers University’s run to the NCAA Championship game.
Stanley is also very familiar with the WNBA. In addition to her stints with the Mystics, she has been an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Sparks and the New York Liberty.
Stanley has earned numerous accolades throughout her career. She was named the Pac-10 Conference Coach of the Year in 1993, the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year in 1984 and 1985, and an All-American selection as a player in 1975 and 1976 at Immaculata College. She led the Might Macs to AIAW national titles in 1973 and ’74 and they were inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.
In 2002, she was inducted in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Stanley also has coached internationally, serving as head coach of USA squad that competed in the 1985 Women’s Junior World Championships as well as assisting with the USA team that captured the gold medal in both the World Championships and Goodwill Games in 1986 and the bronze medal in the 1991 Pan American Games.
SOURCE: Indiana Fever
Vickie Johnson – Head Coach @ Dallas Wings
Johnson joins the Wings with nearly 10 years of experience as a coach in the WNBA. Previously, she spent six seasons on the bench as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Stars from 2011-2016. In 2017, she was promoted to head coach of the Stars.
After her one year at the top in San Antonio, Johnson joined Bill Laimbeer’s staff as an assistant with the Las Vegas Aces. The Aces advanced to the WNBA Semifinals in 2018 and made it to the Finals in 2019.
The New York Liberty drafted Johnson with the No. 12 overall pick in 1997 in the WNBA Elite Draft. In her 13-year career as a player, she was twice named a WNBA All-Star in 1999 and 2001 as a member of the Liberty. Johnson also played for the Stars before retiring from play in 2009.
Dallas is a team with an abundance of young talent, including Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally. The Wings can expect a further influx of talent prior to the start of the 2021 season. They hold the No. 2, No. 5 and No. 7 picks in the 2021 WNBA Draft.
Cheryl Reeve – Head Coach @ Minnesota Lynx
Cheryl Reeve finished her 10th season as Lynx head coach and second in the dual role as head coach and general manager following the 2019 season. In 2017, she led the Lynx to a 27-7 record and their fourth WNBA championship in the last seven years. Since taking over as Lynx head coach, Reeve owns a career 231-109 record, the most coaching wins in franchise history. She was initially named head coach on Dec. 8, 2009, taking over for former head coach Jennifer Gillom.
On Dec. 6, 2012, Reeve signed a multi-year contract extension with the club. Prior to the 2016 season, the Lynx signed Reeve to a multi-year contract extension. On December 28, 2017, Reeve signed a multi-year contract extension and was also named general manager.
During the 2019 season, Reeve received the WNBA’s Basketball Executive of the Year after leading the Lynx to their ninth consecutive playoff berth. She became the first female to receive the award. Reeve was recognized with the award due to the success of the notable offseason moves to position the Lynx to reach the playoffs once again. These moves include selecting Napheesa Collier, the 2019 WNBA Rookie of the Year with the sixth overall pick in the WNBA Draft along with seeing career season out of offseason acquisitions Lexie Brown, Damiris Dantas and Odyssey Sims.
Reeve guided the Lynx to the first championship in franchise history in 2011, being named the WNBA Coach of the Year after leading Minnesota to a league-best 27-7 regular season record. The Lynx made a 14-game improvement from 2010, marking the second-largest single-season win increase in WNBA history. Reeve went on to lead the Lynx to WNBA championships in 2013, 2015 and 2017.
On May 12, 2014, USA Basketball named Reeve as an assistant coach to the 2014 USA Basketball Women’s World Championship Team. After assisting head coach Geno Auriemma to the gold medal and a 6-0 record at the 2014 FIBA World Championship, USA Basketball announced on Feb. 9, 2014, that Reeve would return as an assistant for the USA National Team through the 2016 Olympic Games. She recently joined Dawn Staley’s staff as a 2018 USA National Team assistant coach when Team USA went a perfect 6-0 to capture gold at the 2018 FIBA World Championship.
SOURCE: Minnesota Lynx
Sandy Brondello – Head Coach @ Pheonix Mercury
Known for her intense preparation for each opponent, Brondello has compiled an overall regular season record of 118-86 in her first six seasons with the Mercury, making her the all-time winningest coach in franchise history. Additionally, Brondello has compiled a 17-13 postseason record at the helm of the Mercury, also ranking her as the winningest coach in franchise history in the postseason. She was named the 2014 WNBA Coach of the Year marking the first time a Mercury coach picked up the honor. She led the team to a WNBA regular season-record 29 wins and capped the season with a WNBA Championship.
A 14-year veteran of the WNBA coaching ranks, Brondello has been affiliated with the league for 21 of the league’s 24 seasons, including her time as a player. A proven winner internationally and in the WNBA, her 15 total years as an assistant coach and head coach have featured 11 playoff appearances, including eight semifinals round berths (formerly conference finals), the 2014 WNBA Championship and a spot in the 2008 WNBA Finals. Brondello joined the Mercury after serving as lead assistant coach for the Los Angeles Sparks (2011-13) under 2012 WNBA Coach of the Year Carol Ross. Brondello led the San Antonio Silver Stars to a 2010 playoff berth in her lone season at the helm following five seasons on the Silver Stars bench as an assistant under Dan Hughes (2005-09), the third-winningest coach in league history.
A 2010 inductee into the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame, Brondello was named the 11th head coach for the Australian Women’s National Basketball team on April 17, 2017. While she continues to serve in her role as head coach for the Mercury, Brondello will spend her off seasons preparing the Aussies for a trip to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Recently, Brondello led the Australian National Team to the gold medal in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, finishing with a perfect 5-0 in the games and winning by an average of 53 points per game, and guided the Opals to the silver medal in the 2018 Women’s World Cup, losing only to Team USA in the gold medal game.
During the WNBA offseason, Brondello used to serve as an assistant coach with Russian League team UMMC Ekaterinburg. Now the Mercury’s head of player personnel, Phoenix’s pro scouting efforts are buoyed by Brondello’s knowledge of and exposure to overseas talent.
Brondello finished a stellar 17-year professional playing career with a five-year run in the WNBA in which she played for Detroit (1998-99), Miami (2001-02) and Seattle (2003), and was named a 1999 WNBA All-Star. She began her career with the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) in Australia (1986-96), and was named the league MVP in 1995. The 5-7 guard was a 10-time German Cup champion while playing with BTV Wuppertal (1992-2002), a three-time European Cup All-Star selection (1994, 1996, 1997), and the 1996 European Cup MVP when she led her team to the title.
An 18-year member of the Australian National Team, Brondello is a four-time Olympian, a two-time silver medalist (2000, 2004) and was named the 1992 Australian International Player of the Year. In her time with the national team, she was a teammate of former Mercury forward, and current assistant coach for Phoenix, Penny Taylor.
SOURCE: Phoenix Mercury