Coach of the Year Q&A: Dan Hughes

Dan Hughes has been here before, winning Coach of the Year honors in 2001 while heading up the Cleveland Rockers. But the way he came to earn this year's honor is a more complex story.

Hughes, who is also the team's general manager, essentially built the Silver Stars from scratch. Since joining the team three years ago, Hughes has been putting the pieces together in his vision in hopes getting San Antonio to reach the playoffs for the first since the franchise moved from Utah prior to the 2003 season. After a series of calculated and ambitious moves, which included trading for Becky Hammon and Ruth Riley prior to this season, Hughes had his best chance yet in '07.

But after tearing his Achilles' tendon early in the season, Hughes was forced to miss some games at a crucial time and San Antonio's postseason prospects took a sudden hit. And even when Hughes returned his mobility was limited, relegating him to coaching from his seat on the bench while assistant Brian Alger, who also took over when Hughes was out, roamed the sideline.

But through the help of his trusted staff and a team full of character players that came together a lot faster than most anticipated, the Silver Stars didn't miss a beat and earned the second seed in the West. Soon after, San Antonio won its first ever playoff series by defeating the Sacramento Monarchs in the first round of the WNBA Playoffs.

WNBA.com's Mark Bodenrader talked with Hughes about his honor, his team's success, coaching through unconventional means and what he expects out of the Silver Stars in 2008.

Q: First off, what does it mean to you to win Coach of the Year?
HUGHES: “When it went down I had really strong feelings. To me, this year was so unique in how much support I received from my staff. So I immediately flash back to the blessing that I had such a staff. Brian Agler stepped in and did much for this team, as did Sandy Brondello and Olaf Lange. They did really did an incredible amount of coaching in this. And the other thing I thought about is how this team came together. A lot of players were brought in who made things work who were a special group to work with. I just felt very blessed to be surrounded by people who made things work. This award honestly represents their contributions more than it does me.”

Q: When you tore your Achilles during the season, how did that change how you coached?
HUGHES: “After 30 years I’ve coached in a certain style. Now all of the sudden you have a situation that’s going to cause you to rethink things. It taught me about trust and empowering good people, like your staff, to do things. I’ve really learned a lot about delegation and trust, and lessons that are life lessons because we were thrust into an unusual coaching situation. They delivered with such magnitude it taught me how really important it is to empower good people around you.”

Q: You touch upon how you had a lot of new players come in. Did you expect them to play well together so quickly?
HUGHES: “I thought they could because there was a common theme of being the type of teammate that would bond well with others. How quickly they would bond to our system, that was going to be the question. I thought they would bond as a team, and they quite did both at every expectation I would have had.”

Q: Becky Hammon and Sophia Young were honored here the other day. Does that make you proud seeing them make the All-WNBA?
HUGHES: “Oh, extremely proud. I coached in the WNBA for about eight or nine years, and I had one All-WNBA player before this season. And I have a first- and second-teamer this year. It just showed the quality of team and quality of talent we were fortunate to have play for us.”

Q: What was it like to be part of San Antonio’s first playoff appearance, and then first playoff series win after that?
HUGHES: “Having been there through the building process of our time, it was just really pleasing to watch the city and watch the team become more of a part of a community. To have almost 15,000 people at our last playoff game was extremely gratifying and really a springboard to what the future of the WNBA and the Silver Stars are in San Antonio.”

Q: How about having the dual role of GM and coach: Does that make it easier for you to build a team or does it make it more difficult because you have more to worry about?
HUGHES: “I think both. In the initial stage here it made it easier. It was a blessing to be able to tie things together. But the reality of it is it’s two jobs and the wear and tear is real at that point. I just thankful we had opportunities to bring in some of the players to San Antonio that we did because behind it all was the quality of performer that ended up in our uniforms this year.”

Q: What are you looking to do to improve the team for next year?
HUGHES: “First, we’ll try to return the team in a big way. We’ve got a team that we like very much. Then we’ll sit down and study and see if there’s one way we can possibly add to our situation whether it’s with the second round draft pick that we have or with a move in free agency. We’re always going to search for ways to make it better. But our No. 1 priority will be to return this team in a big way.”

Q: Do you know what you’re going to do with your award, where you’re going to put it?
HUGHES: “To be honest with you I wish I could divide it up and give it to people who were a huge part in this. It’ll find a special place for it, but I’m still kind of realizing this actually happened.”

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