After Katie Smith lost her job as the head coach of the New York Liberty, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve was one of the first to call.
It wasn’t sympathy call.
Come work for me, she said.
It was an easy call to make. “It was because she’s good,” said Reeve, who is also general manager of the Lynx. “Not because I felt bad for her. Not because she played at Minnesota. It’s because I think she’s good. I told her, the day she was released from New York, I said, ‘I know you have a lot to process right now. But you have a home here in Minnesota. You have a spot.’”
On, Tuesday, Smith — the former Lynx star, Naismith Hall of Famer and Olympic gold medalist who won WNBA titles in Detroit while Reeve was there as an assistant — was reintroduced to Minnesota as a Lynx assistant coach.
Smith, who is from Ohio, said she always considered Minnesota a second home.
“And now, with this opportunity to be back with the Lynx and coach Reeve?” she said. “It’s a really great fit. It’s something I’m excited about.”
So, perhaps, it’s the best of both worlds. Reeve gets someone who was a star player, an assistant coach and, for two years, a head coach. Smith gets to go to a team that has developed something of a reputation as a breeding ground for WNBA head coaches; Chicago is currently coached by former Lynx assistant James Wade. The Liberty, meanwhile, just hired former Lynx assistant Walt Hopkins.
Reeve, who has taken a very public stand on the issue of women being head coaches — both in college and the WNBA — has decided to go with an all-female staff. This year, Smith was the first step. Reeve needs to fill one more assistant job and the position of video coordinator.
“I love she was a head coach and now she’s going to be an assistant coach,” Reeve said of Smith. “I think those coaches make the best assistants. Once you’re a [head] coach you understand what you really need to be doing as an assistant.”
Smith will be heavily involved in player development and in preparation of game plans.
Smith said she’s thrilled to be a part of a team that gets such great support. “The organization is 100% behind what the coaches and players are doing,” Smith said. “To be under someone I respect, both on and off [the court] is great.”
Reeve and Smith, of course, go back to the title years in Detroit under head coach Bill Laimbeer. Reeve said she was often the buffer between the sometimes-testy Laimbeer and the always-intense Smith and joked that now Smith would have to serve the same role with the Lynx.
But seriously: Reeve was always impressed with the way Smith’s teams were prepared for games even though the Liberty went just 17-51 in her two seasons as head coach.
“I’ve been an assistant, and I had two years as a head coach,” Smith said. “Just throwing things at coach, bringing ideas and being ready. I’m excited about that. … I’m coming in here with what I learned over the years as a player and as a coach and I’m just going to get after it and see what we can get done this summer.”
Smith said that, even when she left the Lynx, she always rooted for the team. When the Lynx were making regular trips to the WNBA finals she was always a fan. Now she said she wants to help the Lynx get back to that level.
Reeve? She knows if that happens, Smith likely won’t have an extended return.
“I told her, ‘You won’t be doing this long, you’re going to be a great head coach,’” Reeve said. “The situation in New York did not set her up for success. She kind of got a raw deal there. But those stormy waters you go through only make you stronger.”