Record-Setting Thibault Looks Ahead
You'd think that after becoming the winningest coach in the history of the WNBA on July 6, by virtue of a 62-59 Washington Mystics victory over the Seattle Storm, Head Coach Mike Thibault would be in a nostalgic mood, eager to look back on a storied career and 212 victories, one more then WNBA Legend Van Chancellor recorded with the four-time WNBA Champion Houston Comets in the infancy of the league. You'd be wrong.
"I feel mainly relieved, to be honest with you," said Thibault. "Everyone has been talking about breaking the record since the start of the year, and to tell you the truth, I just wanted to get past it. Not to diminish the accomplishment in any way, but I want to focus on the season, getting the Washington Mystics to where we need to be, in the postseason and challenging for a WNBA championship. Plus, while it's nice to get that number (212 wins), I plan on winning a whole lot more."
"To even be named in the same company of guy like Van Chancellor is an honor. Four WNBA championships. Hall of Famer. To be in that company, to be thought of in same conversation of a guy like that, is more gratifying than anything, than any numbers," said Thibault. "I only hope I can duplicate those championships some day. Passing a legendary coach like that, it does hit home. But probably sometime down the line, some coach will pass me too. That's how it goes and it's truly a privilege to be a part of it."
Thibault then shared the credit like a well-schooled pass-first point guard shares the ball when facing a sagging 2-3 zone.
"First of all, it's all the great players I've coached. I've been a lucky guy in that regard, with good players and tremendous support from excellent assistant coaches -- Scott Hawk and Bernadette Mattox in particular -- and of course a strong, loving family along the way. They all helped me reach this milestone and every one of them share in the accomplishment, just as much as I do," said Thibault. "It was bound to happen as I got close over the past few years, but now that I've actually achieved it, it was nice to celebrate with my wife and friends after the game, but I will really be able to look back and maybe savor it down the road, not now. The reality is, I have team goals for 2013 and that is the priority here."
The priority is winning with the Washington Mystic, a franchise he moved to this year after 10 stellar seasons with the Connecticut Sun. Thibault inherited a squad which won just five games in 2012 and only six in 2011, but has already posted six wins in 2013.
"The first goal, of course, is to make the playoffs. The only way you have a chance for the ultimate goal, which is the WNBA Championship, is to make the playoffs. So, that is the first step. The second step, is once we get in there, is to win a playoff series. And so on. One step at a time," said Thibault. "I'm a firm believer that you reach those goals by focusing on a daily basis on the goal to get better every day. You need to be better each day than the day before. You need to come in, coaches and players, to practice every day at 10am and make sure you are a better player, a better coach, when you leave at 1pm. If you can do that as a team, you are on the right road."
There are, of course, bumps along the way, but Thibault is sticking to a proven track record in building the Mystics. "It feels like my first year in Connecticut, when you had players faced with new coaches and a new philosophy, and just like in Connecticut then, I came into Washington wanting to set a new tone, to get the players playing like I want them to play," said Thibault. "We want to play aggressively on offense, push the ball. And we're making progress on the defensive end too, pressuring the ball as a unit. It's a process. You hope they pick it up sooner rather than later. You have to try and be patient. Of course, some days are harder than others, but on the whole I am pleased with how this group with the Washington Mystics is progressing."
Despite the dogged determination to look forward, Thibault allowed for one more look back on his historic record.
"Sometimes as a coach, you tend to remember the losses more than the wins, but if I had to pick one win out of the 212 that was most memorable, it would have to be the 2004 WNBA Eastern Conference Finals clincher, where we beat the Liberty at home to reach the WNBA Finals," said Thibault. We were picked by most experts to finish in last place, but we made the playoffs and then we won the conference finals at home, in our arena."
"The excitement and celebration that night, for players and coaches and fans, it was just very memorable. I can still remember seeing our players put those Conference Champions tee-shirts one, the visual image of that game probably stands out more than any other. The games in the WNBA Finals may have been better games, but getting a franchise over that hump into the Finals was very special. And it's something I intend to do again with the Washington Mystics. That's the goal, to do that in Washington."