Cheryl Reeve is happy for Walt Hopkins, who spent three years on her coaching staff before taking the New York Liberty head coaching job this winter.
She is thrilled for James Wade, who left her staff to become head coach of the Chicago Sky, where he was named WNBA Coach of the Year in 2019 in his first season. Her reaction to their success: Reeve, the Lynx general manager and coach, promises to hire only female assistants.
“I am committed and this is the direction we are going,” Reeve said. “We did fast track two guys into head coaching roles. They were tremendous when they were here, but it was really eye-opening, the benefit of being a man in coaching.”
The WNBA this past week announced a landmark collective bargaining agreement with its players that will increase their pay and benefits. Reeve called it “a momentous” deal.
Reeve (with whom I record a weekly podcast) also lamented the current state of sports hiring.
Not enough women are getting hired as head coaches in the WNBA. Not enough people of color are being hired to coach NFL or NBA teams. The issue is largely the same: White males dominate sports ownership and overwhelmingly hire people who look like themselves.
Reeve has hired three prominent male assistants. Wade and Hopkins became head coaches. Jim Petersen had chances to become a head coach but decided to stay in Minnesota and eventually left her staff to work solely as a broadcaster.
Reeve replaced Hopkins with former Lynx star Katie Smith, whom Hopkins replaced as Liberty coach.
“Katie was hired because she’s a helluva coach, and she’s also a Minnesota Lynx legend,” Reeve said. “We’re going to fast track women in these roles. That’s a responsibility that I want to take on. I want other teams to share that mind-set.
“The league needs to take a better stance in this as well. That’s a conversation I would like to have at the highest levels of our leadership. We have to do more to scrutinize the ways in which the hiring process happens. Let’s be better than what we’re seeing with our counterparts in the NFL and NBA.”
In the NBA, 75% of the players and 37.5% of the head coaches are black.
In the NFL, 70% of the players and 34% of the assistant coaches are nonwhite, according to an article in the Huffington Post. The NFL just completed a hiring cycle in which no black men were chosen to be head coaches, leaving the league with three black head coaches out of 32 teams.
Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski’s team produced 10 points in a divisional playoff loss. The Browns hired him as their head coach shortly after the game ended.
Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s team produced 51 points in a divisional playoff victory. He is black and was not thought to be a prime candidate for any head coaching job.
Former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who is black, took a team quarterbacked by Christian Ponder to the playoffs. He was fired by the Vikings a year later. Despite being the defensive coordinator of a surprising Bills team that made the playoffs, he was not seriously considered for a head coaching job.
Consider the Detroit Lions. Jim Schwartz was fired after producing a record of 29-51 as their head coach. Jim Caldwell was 36-28. The Lions fired him and hired Matt Patricia, who is 9-22-1. Schwartz and Patricia are white. Caldwell is black. Patricia remains on the job and Schwartz has had head coaching interviews. Caldwell did not appear to have a chance at any of the latest openings.
White owners usually hire white males to run their teams, even when the teams consist of women or mostly people of color.
Reeve is thrilled with the new CBA, which will raise the pay of players in the hopes of having them stay in the United States year-round. She believes this could be a tipping point for women’s sports and rights.
“This is about meaningful change,” she said. “This is about, one, women are worth investing in, and, two, when you collaborate and lead together, what is possible. This will resonate for years to come, not just in the WNBA, not just in women’s sports, but for women in society.”
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org