Cheryl Reeve has achieved so much with the Minnesota Lynx that she’s now one of the most accomplished coaches in Minnesota sports history.
The journey to get there was not always easy — nor was the path always clear. A standout student and point guard at La Salle University in Philadelphia, Reeve went into coaching and moved her way up the college and professional basketball ranks.
She endured tough early years, with franchises she worked for folding or relocating, but Reeve was able to parlay her role as a well-respected WNBA assistant with Detroit into the Lynx head coaching job starting with the 2010 season.
With the right mixture of tenacity and good fortune — including the Lynx narrowly missing the postseason in 2010, leading to them winning the draft lottery and selecting franchise cornerstone Maya Moore — Reeve has built a dynasty in Minnesota. She’s known for her no-nonsense personality, which she credits in part to her father, Larry, who died in 2008.
“I can’t think of a season where I didn’t enjoy the process,” Reeve says. “The longer it goes, the more enjoyable it becomes because you’ve gained so much knowledge about how to enjoy it.”
As her teams have found success — four WNBA championships in the past seven seasons and aspirations for a fifth this season — Reeve has also added this to the list of ways to describe her: One of the most powerful voices in Minnesota sports.
Reeve, 51, is married to Carley Knox, the Lynx’s vice president of business operations. The couple has a 3-year-old son, Oliver Knox-Reeve.
In a wide-ranging interview edited for length and clarity, Reeve talked about what it takes to keep a great team on top, why her role and platform with the Lynx is so important and what keeps her up at night.
What are some of the key elements to the remarkable success you and the Lynx have had?
I would first point to our ability to keep our core group together. With that group, what you find is that thirst to win — that competitive fire. I think there’s been incredible focus on a day-to-day basis. Very rarely do we look up and look out once we start (a season). It helps you stay locked into the moment. Those are things that athletes and coaches say are keys to success, and people say, “No, really, what is it?” It’s not sexy enough and doesn’t sound that exciting. But it really is what makes this team go. I think the other part of it is being nimble — whether that means with our style of play or roster moves — and being self-aware. What are we good at? Let’s try to stay in our lane and remain good at those things. But the things we aren’t good at, let’s work really hard to improve so we can limit the number of weaknesses.
When you think about how different your top players are, how are they able to form a cohesive unit?
In their hearts there is a very unselfish person at the core. Forget basketball — just their daily walk. I think it’s fun to celebrate your differences. I need a serious, dry Lindsay Whalen as much as I need a silly — even at serious times — Seimone Augustus. I need Sylvia Fowles at the end of the day just wanting to hug. I need Maya Moore’s constant drive for greatness to keep pushing me, too. Rebekkah Brunson’s professionalism. It’s just a fun blend to be around, and you can draw something from each of them to make yourself better.
You added a new title in the offseason with your promotion to general manager. You’re the main person in charge of player personnel, including contracts and trades. I’m curious what that title and responsibility mean to you?
Before, having a collaboration with Roger (Griffith), the longtime general manager, it was a shared responsibility. Now that’s on me. You worry a lot more. I contacted Roger quite a bit throughout the offseason. There’s no substitute for experience. He was a tremendous resource. But when you reach a decision that you want to do a trade or want a free agent, you just don’t do those things lightly. I probably slept better as just a head coach in the offseason. Now I have two seasons where I don’t sleep well. There’s a different responsibility when it’s your name going on the contracts.
You’ve become a more outspoken advocate for women’s sports and women’s rights issues in the past year or two. Can you pinpoint why or when?
Sometimes in life you have moments, I think they refer to them as “a-ha” moments. I had one in 2009 when my team folded in Detroit and I had a choice to keep doing what I was doing and go be an assistant somewhere else. I said, nope, I want to be a head coach. I made my own break, so to speak. And then I had that kind of moment in the offseason where I looked around and said, “Enough is enough. I’m sick of this. This isn’t OK.” And what’s wrong with saying things aren’t OK? I think the thing I want women to feel is more bold and more brave. They should be able to walk in and say, “I’m qualified for this job, and I should be the person who should get this job.” And that’s not to say you should just get the job because you said it. But women should not to be afraid to ask for what they want. Women are scared into not communicating in fear of losing their job. And that’s just not right. To get real change, you need bold actions. Without it, we’re going to be looking at the same thing 50 years from now. I’m excited for younger people because things are happening a lot faster now, and if people don’t get with it, there are real consequences for their decisions. The time is now. You get what you accept. And if we accept these inequities, we’re going to keep getting them.
Given your championships and added responsibility, should we think of you as the most powerful person in Minnesota sports?
(Laughs) I hope not. I mean, power is a word that I’m really uncomfortable with. I have enjoyed the appreciation that people have grown to have over our team. I have enjoyed brother teams in the city. That includes the Twins, Vikings, the Wild. I’ve shared a lot of time with those guys and (Gophers football coach) P.J. Fleck. These are guys that are excited for you and getting behind you. I think it’s cool that it’s a mutual respect. It’s not a, “you do pretty good for a girl.” That’s the way it should be, and I wish it was this way more in the mainstream, that we’re peers and equals. I’ve enjoyed that about being the head coach and general manager of a very successful team.
You became a mother in the midst of the Lynx becoming a dynasty. Did that present specific challenges or change your perspective on coaching?
That’s all I heard is how much it was going to change me, and I think it has to change you a little bit. The players see you in a different way, and naturally they would see you as a little softer. I don’t know if my coaching philosophy or style have changed. I think the challenge from a time perspective is the big one. I remember the first year and probably most of the second year of his life, the schedule he was on was absolutely brutal for me as a coach. We weren’t very good at the nighttime part. We’d have to rock him until 11 or 11:30. There was an unhealthy stretch there of burning the candle at both ends, staying up late, getting up early.
I’ll leave this open-ended: What’s something about you we don’t know or that you think would surprise people?
I think I’ve expressed this in other settings, but my love of home-improvement projects. They are usually smaller projects. I’m building Oliver a toy chest. It would be much easier to just go on Amazon and order it, but there was something about doing it and him knowing his two moms did it for him. My dad was just so good that way. We didn’t have any money, we were a military family, so my dad was a do-it-yourselfer. He did everything. Sometimes the fun of a project is doing it, making mistakes and going, “Ah, that’s why they said to do that.” My mom needed a new deck, so I said, “I’ve never put a deck on a house. I’m going to do that.” I built her deck. It was overwhelming. They dropped the lumber off and I thought, “What have I done?” But it’s kind of like the season. You just say, “Don’t look at that big pile of stuff. Just what am I focused on? Step one.” It comes in handy.