The most intriguing candidate for the vacant Sixers head-coaching job?
That’s obvious. A charismatic college coach with deep local ties. One who understands the challenges of coaching in a rabid Northeast sports city. One who was coach of the year. Won a national championship.
You know whom I mean.
You thought Jay Wright? Sure. He’d be fine. He’s almost as qualified as Staley: Council Rock star who has spent 25 of his coaching seasons in the Philadelphia region, the last 19 as head coach of Villanova, where he won two of the last four NCAA titles.
But come on. Jay Wright’s a star. Dawn Staley’s a legend.
Last year, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that “there’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball” and that, eventually, he wanted half the league’s 30 head coaches to be women.
It starts with one.
Staley texted me Wednesday and indicated she’d rather be in the stands than on the bench: “As much as I love my Sixers, I’d much rather experience the highs and lows as a fan. ... Fans will experience running down Broad Street, like we did in ’83, in the future.”
That’s understandable. It’s understandable, too, that the Sixers situation — high expectations; petulant veteran, unstable leadership — might not be the best environment for success for Staley, or a similar female coach with her profile. Nevertheless, the Sixers should at least call. It’s how relationships are built and how future candidacies are fostered.
Sixers general manager Elton Brand declined to comment on the search, which is expected to take several weeks, but a league source said the team will consider at least one woman for the position. There are several from whom to choose: Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, Mavericks assistant Jenny Boucek, Clippers assistant Natalie Nakase, Cavaliers assistant Lindsay Gottlieb. I like Staley.
Yes, Wright has won two NCAA titles at Villanova, and Staley has only one, at South Carolina, in 2017. She was busy.
While Wright was following Rollie Massimino to UNLV in the desert, and then losing 41% of his games at Hofstra, Staley became national high school player of the year at Dobbins Tech, then the Division I national player of the year in 1991 and 1992 at Virginia, when she led the Cavaliers to their second and third Final Fours.
She was a three-time Olympic gold medalist and the USA flag-bearer for the opening ceremonies in 2004. She led her ABL team to the title game before the league folded, and led a WNBA team to the title game en route to six WNBA All-Star selections, all of which landed her in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
She was a great player. She might be a better coach.
She returned to Philly in 2001 and led Temple’s women to 100 wins in less than five seasons, faster than any other coach in women’s basketball history. The Owls reached the NCAA Tournament six times in her eight seasons in North Philly before she left in 2008.
Four years later, the Gamecocks were in the NCAA Sweet 16, which they’ve reached seven of the last eight seasons. It would have been eight of nine if COVID-19 hadn’t squelched this year’s tournament. This was her best team, 32-1, No. 1 in the country.
Yes, she coaches women, but if you don’t think Dawn Staley can handle men, then you’ve never met Dawn Staley.
The NBA isn’t the NCAA, but basketball is basketball. Granted, great college coaches don’t always make good NBA coaches, especially if they have no NBA experience. But that argument against Staley also hurts Jay Wright, just as it hurt Brad Stevens, who was moderately successful in six seasons at Butler — his only other head-coaching job. He’s also has been moderately effective in Boston, where, like Brett Brown, he has won nothing since being hired in 2013. If you like Brad Stevens, then you’ll love Dawn Staley. She has twice the resume.
Is the NBA ready?
Is the NBA ready for a female coach? This might be a bridge too far even for a progressive franchise such as the Sixers, who last year promoted scout Lindsey Harding, making her the seventh female assistant coach in the history of the NBA before she moved on to Sacramento. Frankly, Staley would be a front-runner if she possessed different chromosomes.
She’s not the only one, and she’s certainly not the first. C. Vivian Stringer might be the most qualified. Muffet McGraw, out of St. Joe’s, just left Notre Dame, and she’s only 64. The late Pat Summitt, had she been born in a different time, surely would have been an NBA coach. She won eight NCAA titles at Tennessee from 1987 to 2008 while the Sixers ran the likes of Johnny Davis and Chris Ford through town.
Back in 2002, I would have loved to have seen Allen Iverson show up late for a Pat Summitt practice.
And now, in 2020, I’d love to see Joel “The (Food) Process(or)” Embiid try to smuggle four milkshakes onto the team flight past Dawn Staley.
If the Sixers ignore Staley, a supremely qualified candidate, simply because of her gender, it will come as no surprise. From Andrew Bynum to Sam Hinkie to Bryan Colangelo to Markelle Fultz to Al Horford, they haven’t been making the best choices since Josh Harris and Co. pooled their pennies and took over nine years ago.
If ever the NBA world were ready for a female to rise, the time is now. Look around.
A Black woman is the running mate of the favored presidential candidate, four years after another Black woman served as the finest first lady in generations. The country is roiling in its quest for equality and diversity.
Staley and Hammon, a six-year Spurs assistant, should be interviewed for every open men’s head-coaching job in the country, college or pro.
If the Sixers are really serious about diversity, they’ll call Staley. If you’re serious about empowering women, you won’t mock them when they do.
This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t call Tyronn “Stepover” Lue, too. After all, LeBron James allowed Ty to coach him from the middle of the 2015-16 season through the 2017-18 season. That Cavaliers team even won a title in Lue’s first (half) season, but he was mostly coincidental.
It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t call Gregg Popovich from the Spurs. On the other hand, he had even less success than Brett Brown at coaxing competence from bullheaded Gen-Z players such as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Now 71, “Pop” hasn’t advanced past the first round in three years.
And it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t call Wright — except Wright probably wouldn’t answer. Brand might try to text him. His return text to Brand would be something like “new phone who dis.”
You couldn’t blame Jay. Things are great for Wright at Villanova. Travel is easy. He coaches less than half as many games as an NBA coach. And he can bench any players who show up fat or won’t shoot.
Wright is an elegant, brilliant Main Line phenomenon, and he deserves the chance to move up to the major leagues.
But they don’t create murals and name city streets after Jerold Taylor Wright. They create murals and they name city streets after Dawn Michelle Staley.
She deserves her chance even more.