Agler the Choice for Storm Head Coach
As she drove away from the meeting where she learned of Anne Donovan's desire to resign as head coach and director of player personnel, Seattle Storm Chief Operating Officer Karen Bryant began brainstorming possible replacements for Donovan. Immediately, the name of San Antonio Silver Stars Assistant Coach Brian Agler crossed her mind.
On Wednesday, that thought came to fruition when Bryant introduced Agler as the third head coach in the Storm's history.
"Clearly, as an assistant coach, he was I assumed available and would be interested," Bryant said at a press conference held at The Furtado Center, explaining her thinking. "(His experience) having been a head coach in this league and at the pro level for five-plus years, counting his two years in the ABL. The fact that he played an instrumental role in San Antonio, both on the court and behind the scenes - I think a lot of the success that the team had this year, certainly Brian deserves some credit for.
"His relationships with players, his ability to develop players and his long track record of being a great mind - anybody who has worked with him talked to me a lot about his knowledge of the game, his approach to the game. And then a lot of the intangibles - his communication style, his character, his integrity - a lot of things that are important to us as an organization."
For Agler, his selection means the opportunity to return to the head-coaching ranks. After a lengthy career coaching NCAA women's basketball, Agler began his professional career with the ABL's Columbus Quest in his native Ohio. Agler led the Quest to both championships awarded by the ABL prior to its demise and was named the ABL's Coach of the Year in 1996-97.
Agler's ABL success earned him a chance to lead the Minnesota Lynx as they entered the WNBA as an expansion team for the 1999 season. Teamed with one of his Columbus stars, Katie Smith, Agler led the Lynx to a 15-17 record in 2000, the franchise's second year of existence, and spent three-plus years in Minnesota.
Since then, Agler has worked as a WNBA assistant, spending one season in Phoenix and the last three on Dan Hughes' staff in San Antonio. Last year, Agler played a key role in an 20-win season for the Silver Stars that culminated in a trip to the Western Conference Finals. Hughes was named the WNBA's Coach of the Year, but Agler deserved to share in the credit as well. In addition to his usual duties as an assistant, Agler replaced Hughes on the sidelines for seven games when Hughes was recovering from a torn Achilles. In those games, the Silver Stars went 6-1.
"It reenergized me a little bit to get that opportunity," Agler said Wednesday. "I didn't like the way I got that opportunity, but what we had to do was just make the best of it. We had to take advantage of the things that were going well for us, and that was how our players were playing. We tried to manage that a little bit and it played out well."
Now, Agler will again have a chance to run his own team. He believes that his experience as an assistant coach will aid him in his return to head coaching.
"I've learned a lot about the WNBA and the players and the schedule that these players are under," said Agler. "I've had a chance to study teams a little bit differently. When you sit there and evaluate and put together a scouting report on specific opponents from an assistant's standpoint, you learn more about players as individuals and players on how they affect their team. That experience over the last four years being an assistant is definitely going to help me do a better job here in Seattle as a head coach."
In addition to his head coaching duties, Agler will also serve as the Storm's director of player personnel, a role previously held by Donovan. Following Donovan's resignation and through the coaching search, Bryant had kept her mind open to the possibility of splitting the two roles. Ultimately, it made sense for Agler to hold the power to make player-personnel decisions, as he did in Minnesota.
"Depending on which way we went, I wanted to approach both jobs as of equal importance," said Bryant. "There were definitely some folks on the list that would have been suited to the head coaching position and not well suited to the player personnel role. Very quickly as we started to focus on Brian, it became a combination role. He's more than capable of fulfilling both responsibilities."
"I think when you are coaching a team," noted Agler, "you do want to have a say on the types of players that you have on your team because you want to match your personnel to your philosophies and that's the best way to do it."
With just four players under contract for the 2008 season, Agler will have the chance to put his imprint on the Storm as soon as the WNBA completes negotiations with the player's association on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and moves into the free agency period. The coming weeks will see Agler and Assistant Coach Shelley Patterson, who worked with Agler on the Phoenix coaching staff in 2004 and will remain an assistant in Seattle, plan for several contingencies depending upon the outcome of those negotiations.
"I think we're going to probably talk to every team in the league two or three times here in the spring about how we can help our roster. There's some people that we need to re-sign. We want to do that. We want to be very aggressive that way, but we also have to look at our competition especially here in the Western Conference and how we can put our roster together to be competitive here."
During the course of that process, look for an emphasis on improvement defensively. Agler's Minnesota teams consistently won with defense, and he spoke to the importance of defense during the press conference, matching Bryant's desire for the team to improve at that end of the floor.
"The one thing I would like to try to bring to the table a little bit is just the ability to put a team on the floor that plays quality defense," he said. "We’ll try to build up a mentality and the approach on the floor from the basket out. I think that if you look across the board, the teams that have had success in the last two or three years in the WNBA - including Phoenix a year ago - they have always impacted the game at the defensive end. I feel like that is the utmost important factor to be able to bring to this team right now."
In town until Friday, Agler will waste little time getting to business. He was playing to begin talking strategy with the team's basketball staff Wednesday afternoon after the completion of the press conference. Agler's enthusiasm for returning to the head coaching ranks was obvious.
"I'm thrilled for him," said Bryant. "I think it's an opportunity he's earned, he's deserved. In dialogue with him, the reality is he's taken something meaningful from every experience he's had - Minnesota, Phoenix and Seattle - and was really hungry to put that into play as a head coach again."