Mercury Gets Stability with Gaines
The job opening in Phoenix, where the Mercury was searching for a replacement for Paul Westhead, wasn't your typical head coach job. Not only is Phoenix the defending WNBA champs, but the Mercury got there with the unconventional all-out attacking fast-break offense that unofficially bears Westhead's name - "Paul Ball."
Westhead's decision to leave the Mercury and come here to join P.J. Carlesimo's staff as an assistant for the Seattle SuperSonics left Phoenix in a familiar position - searching for a new coach. After the tenure of Cheryl Miller, who led the Mercury to three playoff appearances in the franchise's first four seasons, Phoenix went through five head coaches in a span of six seasons, culminating with Westhead's arrival in 2006.
"We are of the opinion that stability wins championships," Meyers Drysdale said in the release introducing Gaines as head coach. "Hiring Corey is another step toward the long-term success of this franchise. Our players and staff trust his knowledge of the game and our personnel, and have every confidence in his abilities to reach the high bar we set this past season."
Up in the Pacific Northwest, Westhead learned that Gaines had officially gotten the job when he was asked for a response before the Sonics faced the Memphis Grizzlies last night.
"That's good," said Westhead. "I'm really happy for him.
"It's rewarding for the players. I'm glad for him because he's a good coach and he's my friend. The players should enjoy the continuity."
The Gaines-Westhead connection dates back nearly two decades to when Gaines, a transfer from UCLA, started at point guard his senior season for Westhead at Loyola Marymount in 1987-88. Gaines also played under Westhead for one season in Denver and they later reunited in the ABA before Gaines entered the coaching ranks as an assistant to Westhead.
Over that time, Gaines has become well-versed in the up-tempo system which has broken scoring records - points for and sometimes points against - everywhere Westhead has gone.
"Let's put it this way," Gaines told WNBA.com, "I know nothing else. Why would I change things? Do what you do. I can't coach Phil Jackson's triangle offense. I don't know it! You have to coach something you know… something you believe in."
Mercury players clearly wanted the continuity that promoting Gaines would provide. And, with the perimeter-oriented talent on the Phoenix roster, changing styles at this point would make little sense. Based on his introduction to the media yesterday, Gaines has learned not only Westhead's system but also his style of coaching.
"On a team like this, your main job is almost not to mess things up," he explained to WNBA.com. "One thing I learned from Coach is not to outthink yourself. You don't have to be the smartest guy out there. Do what you do. Do what the team has done to get to where it is. Don't change up everything just because you're trying to look smart as a coach. Just do what you do."
If the Mercury returns the roster that won the championship, that strategy should be successful. The main question mark for Meyers Drysdale is the status of All-Star forward Penny Taylor, who must decide whether to come back to Phoenix or spend the summer in Australia preparing for the Olympics.
Especially if Taylor returns, Gaines is stepping into an unusual position for a rookie head coach. He has the luxury of a roster potentially as talented as any in the WNBA, but also faces the expectations that come with that talent.
"The bar has been set high around here," he told WNBA.com. "My goal is to keep the bar high and to keep us ready and able to reach that goal once again. That's the main thing."