Mystics name Thibault coach, GM

Mystics name Thibault coach, GM
December 18, 2012, 12:30 pm
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Updated 5:51 p.m.

During his introductory press conference, the Washington Mystics new head coach and general manager made it clear he knew exactly what he was walking into.

Moments after being introduced as the 13th coach and seventh general manager in franchise history on Tuesday afternoon, the former Connecticut Sun launched into a detailed oral presentation about his vision - and what ails the Mystics. Considering the Sun own a nine-game winning streak over the Mystics including five last season - Thibault's 10th and final in Connecticut before his firing last month - he would know.

The 62-year-old coach, the second winningest coach in WNBA history, spoke of his new team being "deficient" in several categories, specifically rebounding percentage, free throw/foul differential and turnovers. The man who has coached in two WNBA finals also noted the "perimeter shooting was a problem" last season. Roster changes will happen, but coaching up the players on the roster that produced a 5-29 record last season is paramount said the new man in charge.

Once Thibault finished, Monumental Sports & Entertainment chairman Ted Leonsis summed up all he just heard.

"So, other than our defense and our offense, our foul shooting, and our turnovers, we've given Mike everything he needs," Leonsis cracked.

Of course as the saying goes, behind every joke there is a hint of truth. In this case, quite a bit. Under former coach and general manager Trudi Lacey, the Mystics finished the worst two-year stretch in franchise history. Last season the Mystics finished with a league-low 5-29 record and were the only team to score fewer than 70 points per game.

Thibault's WNBA resume knows not of such lows.

In the decade under Thibault, the Sun advanced to the WNBA Finals in 2004 and 2005, the Eastern Conference finals five times and made eight trips to the playoffs. The longest-tenured coach in the WNBA at the time of his dismissal and twice-selected WNBA Coach of the Year, Thibault sports a 206-134 career record. He needs only six wins to pass former Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor coach for the most wins in league history.

The Sun finished the past season 25-9 and reached the Eastern Conference finals, but came up short in pursuit of its first WNBA championship. Thibault was the only coach in Connecticut's history before being fired on Nov. 20.

"The coaching business is a very peaks and valley business sometimes," Thibault said. "When I left Connecticut I had a lot of things to think about, what I wanted to do, the opportunities that were out there. This fit, this fit in a whole bunch of ways."

Washington dismissed Lacey on Sep. 24, choosing not to renew her contract or those of her assistants after a two-year record of 11-57 record.

Leonsis, owner of the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals, and Mystics president and managing partner Sheila C. Johnson flanked Thibault during his introduction.

"We spent a lot of time looking for the right person to help the Washington Mystics take the next step," Leonsis said. "We feel very fortunate that a coach and professional of this much relevance in the WNBA...his background, he's really a perfect fit for us."

Thibault said he and Leonsis first spoke three weeks ago. A former NBA assistant coach, Thibault is friends with Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld when the two were with the Milwaukee Bucks organization.

At this time of his dismissal, Thibault did not serve as general manager with the Sun, though he said he had a hand in most of Connecticut's personnel decisions. He filled that role for eight seasons with the Omaha Racers of the Continental Basketball Association, a predecessor to the NBA's Developmental League. The former NBA assistant coach was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers championship teams in 1980 and 1982, and worked under George Karl with the Bucks.

During the 2009 and 2010 seasons under coach Julie Plank and general manager Angela Taylor, the Mystics reached the playoffs twice and claimed the Eastern Conference regular season title in 2010. Management chose to consolidate the coaching and general manager positions into one, which eventually led to Lacey's hiring. Washington is sticking with that two-for-one plan.

"We made Mike our general manager and coach because he really know the league," Leonsis said. "We think it's important that he has the ability to implement a system and bring in the players for that system. He should be able to build the time in the guise that he desires.

The Mystics lost all five games against Thibault's Sun last season and nine straight overall.

"For all the fans out there that have been off the bandwagon, jumped off, the bandwagon is big enough to get back on," said Thibault, who desires playing an up-tempo style. "We'll take all comers. We have a lot to prove, we know that. There are no miracles, it's about hard work."

Washington overhauled the roster entering the 2012 season with seven new faces joining the 11-player roster. Expect more changes during the offseason with the team needing an interior presence opposite forward and leading scorer Crystal Langhorne, a true pass-first point guard and additional perimeter shooting.

The team currently owns the fourth pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, having missed one off the coveted first three selections. Baylor All-American center Britney Griner is the likely top selection in the front-loaded draft.

"I told Sheila the other day, 'please don't despair with the fourth pick in the draft," Thibault said. "I know there were a lot of long faces when the lottery took place. It's not all that bleak. The fourth pick is an asset."

After two dismal seasons, the Mystics are counting on their new leading man to be one as well.