HomeSportsMercury fire trainer, last place, Nygaard in skid - UnlistedNews

Mercury fire trainer, last place, Nygaard in skid – UnlistedNews

The Phoenix Mercury has fired head coach Vanessa Nygaard after a 2-10 start to the season, the worst in the league.

“We have chosen to make a head coaching change,” Mercury general manager Jim Pitman said in a statement Sunday. “We thank Vanessa Nygaard for the way she endured and handled adversity last year. Our organization and our fans have high expectations for this team, and we haven’t met them with our performance this year.”

Assistant coach Nikki Blue will serve as the team’s interim head coach for the remainder of the season.

The move comes a day after a 97-74 loss to the rebuilding Seattle Storm, a game in which both Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi returned from three injury absences.

“What’s going on is not going to be enough,” Griner said after the loss, the team’s fifth straight. “It’s the first time I have a record like this. It’s really frustrating.

“I don’t know. I guess I’ll tear it down and rebuild it again. I really don’t get it. It’s not going the way we want it to go. It’s not the Phoenix Mercury basketball we all know.”

Nygaard, 48, finished with a 17-31 record in the regular season with the Mercury and was 0-2 in the playoffs. The start to this season ties the franchise-worst at 12 games, which happened in 2003, when Phoenix finished 8-26. Mercury selected No. 1 Taurasi the next season and has won three titles since 2007, 2009 and 2014. Phoenix lost to the Chicago Sky in the WNBA Finals in 2021, the season before Nygaard took over.

Nygaard played for three Final Four women’s teams at Stanford from 1995 to 1997, but her college career ended when she tore an ACL shortly before the 1998 NCAA tournament. Drafted by the New York Liberty in 1998, she sat out that season to rehab her knee and then played in the WNBA from 1999 to 2003 with Cleveland, Portland, Miami and Los Angeles.

In 2003, she began her coaching career at the collegiate level at Long Beach State and then Pepperdine. In 2008, she worked as an assistant in the WNBA before moving up through the high school ranks. From 2008 to 2021, she was an assistant and then head coach at the Windward School in Los Angeles, one of the best prep programs in California. Among the players she coached was current WNBA player Jordin Canada.

In 2021, Nygaard also served as an assistant for the Las Vegas Aces. In January 2022, Nygaard was named the Mercury’s head coach, replacing Sandy Brondello, who had been fired after eight seasons in Phoenix.

However, less than a month after Nygaard was hired, Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport as she was returning to Russia to continue her basketball season abroad there. Russian customs officials said they found vaporizer canisters filled with cannabis oil in her luggage, which she admitted to packing in a hurry.

Mercury’s entire 2022 season was overshadowed by Griner’s absence. The Mercury still made the playoffs with a 15-21 record, but had neither Taurasi (injury) or Sklyar Diggins-Smith (team abandoned for personal reasons) in the postseason. Phoenix was swept by eventual champion Las Vegas in the first round.

Diggins-Smith gave birth in the off-season and is still on maternity leave, with her status unknown for the remainder of this season.

Griner, who returned to the United States in December 2022, made a successful return to the court this season and was named an All-Star starter on Sunday. But as a team, the Mercury have struggled. Asked what he felt went wrong in the loss to Mercury on Saturday, Nygaard said: “I probably need to watch the game before I comment on that. But, yeah, we have to get better.”

Blue, 39, was a Pac-12 guard from 2002 to 2006 for the UCLA Bruins, and was teammates for three years there with Seattle Storm coach Noelle Quinn. Blue was the 19th pick in the 2006 WNBA draft by the Washington Mystics, playing four seasons for them and one with the Liberty.

Blue began her coaching career in 2008 as an assistant at UNLV while still playing in the WNBA. She then moved on to Cal State Bakersfield (in her hometown), Grand Canyon and Arizona State before joining Nygaard’s staff last year with the Mercury. Her first game as her head coach will be Tuesday in Phoenix against the Dallas Wings.

ESPN’s MA Voepel contributed to this report.


Sara Marcus
Sara Marcus
Meet Sara Marcus, our newest addition to the Unlisted News team! Sara is a talented author and cultural critic, whose work has appeared in a variety of publications. Sara's writing style is characterized by its incisiveness and thought-provoking nature, and her insightful commentary on music, politics, and social justice is sure to captivate our readers. We are thrilled to have her join our team and look forward to sharing her work with our readers.


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