Brian Agler lives separate lives. At home in Ohio, he's the father of two teenagers. In Seattle, he's the WNBA Storm's coach trying to bridge a 2,500-mile distance to his family.
Brian Agler, the coach, lives in solitude in a small Lower Queen Anne apartment and entertains himself by quietly analyzing video of basketball games.
Brian Agler, the dad, lives with his wife and two kids in Columbus, Ohio, and sits in the stands like any other helpless parent while his children — point guards, of course — play hoops.
The coach wanders the Seattle streets, often anonymously, the orchestrator of the team with the WNBA’s best record, the understated citizen who wears Storm gear around town and gets asked, “Oh, you a fan?” The dad runs errands while his wife works, acts as the kids’ chauffeur and pre-empts his daughter’s moments of panic by declaring the house a “drama-free zone.”
The coach lives for this time of year, when consuming nothing but basketball really is a balanced diet. The dad tries to bridge the distance of 2,500 miles with frequent text messages and phone calls.
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“Basically, I have two different lives,” Agler says matter-of-factly.
He doesn’t complain. It’s just how it is. Unfortunately, it’s common for so many coaches who persist in this profession of volatile job security. Eight years ago, after Agler was fired in Minnesota, he and his wife, Robin, made a decision not to keep uprooting the family. They set up permanent residence in Ohio, where Brian is from, and since then he has led this double life. He spent 2003 as a scout, then returned to the bench as an assistant for Phoenix in 2004 and for San Antonio from 2005 to 2007.
He is starting his third season as Storm coach and director of player personnel, and his current squad looks like his best. At 10-2, the Storm is the best team in the WNBA now. The team is thriving because of Lauren Jackson’s health, the returning players’ experience in Agler’s system and improved depth. And with an impassioned coach who never relaxes, the players know there’s ample room for improvement.
But for Agler, the dad, there’s even better news: His son, Bryce, is spending the summer with him in Seattle while he prepares to go to The College of Wooster in the fall. Bryce has been working out here because he plans to play basketball at the Division III liberal arts school in Ohio. He knows he can’t find a better teacher of the game than his dad.
The Aglers are a true basketball family. Brian, a point guard, played college ball at Wittenberg, a D-III school in Springfield, Ohio. He first got into coaching by following his former high-school coach to Oklahoma and serving as an assistant at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Junior College. While there, he met Robin, via a mutual friend. They had much in common, and Robin was a good athlete who played six-on-six high-school ball. They dated for six months, got engaged and wed six months after that. They’ve been married for nearly 22 years.
They also have a 15-year-old daughter, Taylor, who wants to play Division I ball. Bryce and Taylor have learned to trust their father’s hoops knowledge, even though he pushes them hard.
“My basketball IQ is so much higher than it would be without him,” Bryce said. “We talk about basketball 24/7. It’s literally, like, all basketball at our house. I like it that way.”
Said Taylor of her dad: “He’s my biggest influence in basketball. He always pushes me with weightlifting, agility drills, practicing. After all of my games, we watch the video together. He tells me what path to take, or what shot I need to take. I think he’s a pretty relaxed guy for the most part, but on game days, he’s pretty intense.”
Dad’s teachings are what you’d expect coming from one of the WNBA’s best defensive minds: Defense wins games; your defense sets up your offense. But Brian is also big on developing mental toughness. Those lessons go beyond the basketball court.
During this past school year, Taylor would come home and see a sign on the garage door.
“This is a drama-free zone,” it read. “Please put all your drama in this drop box.”
On her bedroom and bathroom doors, there were similar messages, including the funniest of them all — “All drama demons will be exorcised!”
“I didn’t find it funny then,” Taylor said. “But, yeah, I find it funny now. I learned that I should shut up and not let things going on at school get me too frustrated.”
Brian misses the drama this time of year. Starting in mid-April, he’s always gone for about five months. He misses the AAU games. He misses quiet moments with his wife. He misses summer vacations with the family.
They visit Seattle about three times a summer. They drive to nearby Storm road games, like the one in Indiana last Thursday. But even though Agler takes long walks to call his wife and sends text messages to the kids first thing in the morning, it’s tough.
“We’re a typical family in that we have our ups and downs,” Brian said. “We live on that roller coaster. During those difficult times, it’s stressful. Being away when things go wrong, it’s like you’re in a helpless state.”
During those times, they talk about military families and how soldiers get called away for long periods, putting their lives on the line to protect our country. The perspective helps.
The coach is always parenting. The dad is always coaching. But on Father’s Day, the kids want the final say.
Said Bryce: “I like that, no matter what the situation, he never changes his point of view. He sticks to his guns. I admire that so much.”
Said Taylor: “He’s always there to listen to me. He’s always there, even with the drama-free zone. He knows what I want to do, and he keeps me on track. We have a really good relationship.”
Coaches and parents are alike in that they must often wonder if they’re getting their points across properly. Right now, the two lives of Brian Agler intersect at one thought: Message received.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer