Chris Elsberry: Despite winning tradition, Thibault sent packing
Published 1:00 am, Sunday, November 25, 2012
It comes down to this: Mike Thibault didn't get the job done. Yes, he won a lot of games. Yes, he got the Connecticut Sun into the Eastern Conference finals five times, and twice, he coached the Sun into the WNBA Finals.
But he never got the brass ring, never won a title. And in the "Sorry-but-what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" world that is professional sports, that wasn't good enough.
And that's why after 10 seasons, Thibault and his staff were fired by Sun vice president and general manager Chris Sienko on Tuesday. Thank you for the 206 wins. Thank you for the eight playoff appearances. Here are some parting gifts and don't let the door hit you in the backside on the way out.
"The decision to let Mike go was difficult based on our friendship and working relationship," Sienko said in a release announcing the decision. "Mike has had much success here in Connecticut over the past ten seasons. However, we felt it was time for a new voice and new direction for our players and our fans as we continue to try to capture that first, elusive title. We wish Mike and his family nothing but success and know our paths will cross again in the future."
A new voice? What's Sienko trying to say? That the team didn't listen to Thibault? That they didn't play hard for him? That they didn't agree with his coaching philosophy? In his 10 seasons in Uncasville, Thibault had one losing season. One. He won an average of almost 21 games a season, not bad.
And, even better, he got his team into the playoffs a lot.
This year, the Sun went 25-9, reaching the Eastern Conference finals against the Indiana Fever. They had the deciding game of that series on their home court, the Mohegan Sun Arena. And just five minutes into the game, the Fever lost their star, Katie Douglas, to an ankle injury.
But that's when the Sun suddenly set. They were blasted off the court, losing 87-71 and looking totally lost in the process.
The Sun were the best team in the East all season, had the Most Valuable Player (UConn product Tina Charles) and the Best Sixth Player (Renee Montgomery, also of UConn) in the league on their team. That's without mentioning some other pretty good names in Asjha Jones, Kara Lawson, Allison Hightower, Kelsey Griffin, Kalana Greene and Danielle McCray. But no one played well that night against the Fever. No one.
"I don't have a lot of answers," Thibault said after the game.
Sienko sure had one -- fire the coach and his staff.
"After much thought and consideration, we have decided to make a coaching change with the hopes that this will allow us to achieve our ultimate goal of bringing a WNBA championship to Connecticut," said Sun CEO Mitchell Etess in that same statement.
"We have the ultimate respect and appreciation for everything coach Thibault has done here, and he has played a huge part in establishing the Connecticut Sun as the model franchise in the league. However, our ultimate goal is the championship, and this change is made with an eye to accomplishing just that."
And it was that number, a 17-17 postseason record, that made Sienko and Etess bring the hammer down on Thibault, sending his 206 wins and his eight WNBA playoff appearances packing.
"It's a shame that all the good stuff that we did will be defined by this," Thibault said after that Indiana loss. "It's a shame because we had a real good season. I live for winning games like this and we didn't win, so I'm going to be disappointed until we play again. This is going to eat at me."
No, it won't. Because Mike Thibault won't get the chance to coach the Sun again.
"It's their money. They write the checks," Thibault told the New London Day Tuesday. "They get to do what they want. It's a business. I understand that. I disagree that a different voice will change things. But it's their decision to make."
Yes, it is, right or wrong. And the Sun made it.
"We are committed to bringing a WNBA championship to our loyal fans, who have given us tremendous support our first 10 seasons," Sienko said. "We have several candidates in mind who we believe can help us accomplish that goal. Ultimately, we want to find the best fit for our athletes and this organization."
Good luck with that.