Choose your situation.
There’s option A: You inherit dirt. You might not enjoy a lot of success early. You might not enjoy a lot of success ever. But given what you took over, it will be difficult for critics to pin any shortcomings directly on you.
Then there’s option B: You inherit gold. You almost certainly will enjoy a lot of success early. Just about all of your games will be meaningful, and fan interest will stay at a consistently high level. But if expectations aren’t met, you become an obvious target.
What’s your pick?
Sunday, it was announced that Noelle Quinn would be taking over for the retiring Dan Hughes as the Storm’s new head coach. It was a move that garnered praise from the likes of Storm point guard Sue Bird, and one that made history by making Quinn the first Black person to hold that position in the organization.
It’s a logical step for a former player who spent 12 seasons in the league and five seasons in Seattle before stepping into a role as an assistant coach. It’s probably also a little scary, no?
The Storm has won two of the past three WNBA championships — and didn’t have Breanna Stewart or Bird in the year it fell short. It is 5-1 on the season and at +230, is the FanDuel favorite to win its fifth league title. Most of the time, a coaching change takes place because something wasn’t working for the team he or she was leading. So I had to ask …
Coach, do the expectations surrounding your team add pressure to your job?
“No pressure at all,” said the 36-year-old Quinn, whose previous position was Storm associate head coach. “We have cultivated this culture so to speak, and I’m gonna be honest — when you have Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd in your corner, you can’t go wrong. You know what I mean? And obviously the support of the rest of the team. Sometimes my job is to get out of the way. But to (also) make sure we are focused and prepared and on task.”
No reason to think Quinn can’t handle that last part. Last Tuesday looked like a prime example. With Hughes away attending his son’s graduation, Quinn split head-coaching duties with Gary Kloppenburg in the Storm’s game vs. Connecticut. And as Seattle entered overtime after giving up an 11-point lead, Quinn helped compose the team before the extra five minutes. By game’s end, Seattle had walked away with a 90-87 victory.
How much does that experience prepare you for taking over now?
“It prepares me a lot. There are little nuances about the game, like a longer timeout as a head coach, or how long the discussions with my assistants are — just little things you don’t think about when you’re in your assistant coach’s role,” Quinn said. “But it was seamless, because the team was amazing. I looked in the huddle, they were looking on me, eyes locked on me like ‘You got this, what do you want us to do?’ From seeing that and feeling that, it kind of settled me in.”
Still, I’ll go back to the original question: Situation A or B? Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais, for instance, are in A. They took over a team that was 76-86 in 2015, hadn’t made the playoffs since 2001 and had untradable players on massive contracts. Six years later, they still haven’t made the playoffs and are in the midst of their third straight losing season, but the pair appears to have job security because of the never-ending rebuild.
No doubt Quinn is an entirely different position. The Storm has the reigning Finals MVP in Stewart, who won the regular-season MVP in 2018. It has the all-time assists and games-played leader in Bird. It has another former No. 1 overall pick in Loyd, whose 19.7 points per game are on pace for a career high. And it has a target on its back you can see from the Space Needle.
Asked about the confidence the team has in Quinn, Bird was direct.
“We trust her,” she said. “She’s beyond ready.”
Quinn seems to trust herself, too. Given the opportunity the Storm has, she’s got to.