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New Sky head coach must win often ... and early
By Patricia Babcock McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/17/20 4:48 PM

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The Atlanta Dream got swept 3-0 by the Seattle Storm on Thursday in the best-of-five WNBA Finals.

But that was far from a nightmare for the Dream. In fact, there is definitely a silver lining to this story.

Four years ago, the Dream didn't even exist. To be playing for a WNBA championship in Year 3 of franchise history is pretty darn good.

I'll tell you this: the Chicago Sky would take that "moral victory" in a heartbeat, five times over - one for each year the franchise has been in the league. Heck, the Sky would love to be in the playoffs, period. In five years, the Sky has never made the playoffs.

And then there's Atlanta.

The comparison of the WNBA's two most recent expansion teams tears Sky owner Michael Alter to pieces.

"It's certainly painful to see how Atlanta has progressed and how we have not done as well," Alter said. "We're still a long way from that. But we shouldn't be. We're just not getting it done. And that's what needs to be addressed."

Alter has already gotten the ball rolling on that.

Last week head coach and general manager Steven Key resigned after three years on the job and a 42-60 record. The Sky finished 14-20 this season after a 16-18 mark and a near-miss of the playoffs in 2009.

Key had one more year on a contract that had been extended for two years just before the 2010 season. He said that he and the Sky agreed on financial terms to cover the remaining year.

"The feeling was mutual on their side and on my side that we were very disappointed and somewhat frustrated after three years that we couldn't break through," Key said. "On my end, I had to look and say, 'If I haven't accomplished that so far, I need to go ahead and evaluate whether or not I can do it in the future.

"Upon doing that, it was a mutual agreement that I step down."

Key, who is looking for his next coaching job in either women's or men's basketball, was the third head coach for the Sky in its first three years. He replaced Bo Overton, who replaced Dave Cowens, both one-year coaches.

Key's replacement will be the fourth head coach for the Sky in six seasons.

"I'm not happy about that, and frankly I'm embarrassed," Alter said. "But the reality is, we need to create a winning culture. We've had five years of disappointment and that's way too long."

Meanwhile, the clock just keeps ticking on this franchise. Louder and louder.

Some insiders estimate Alter may be losing at least $1 million a year on the Sky, which is understandable for an expansion team, but not be the case for a team five years in.

The Sky needs to average about 5,000 to 6,000 fans per game next year to slow the bleeding. Attendance at Allstate Arena, the home for the 2010 season, fell short of that.

Sky officials are hopeful that having another off-season to market the team to suburban fans will provide a major up-tick in ticket sales in 2011.

Of course, winning is a better remedy as Chicago fans tend to get behind a winner.

The Sky's next head coach won't have time on his or her side. Winning must happen immediately, which is why Alter says he has a specific kind of coach in mind.

Sounds like he might be going for pay dirt.

"My goal is to find someone who knows how to win, who is a proven winner," said Alter, who has already started speaking with candidates. "We want to create a culture where winning is absolutely expected."

Name game: Alter wouldn't get specific about whom he is talking with in his search for a coach. But here are some names that may come up:

• John Whisenant, who led the Sacramento Monarchs to the 2005 WNBA title.

• Los Angeles Sparks assistant coach Marianne Stanley, a Hall of Famer who guided Old Dominion to three national championships.

• Seattle Storm assistant Nancy Darsch, who turned the Ohio State women's program into a national power.

• Atlanta Dream assistant Carol Ross, who was a successful college coach at Florida.

• Current Sky assistant coach Stephanie White should get some consideration, but she has not been a head coach at any level.

Finally, there's one more name that I've heard. Are you ready?

• Pokey Chatman. She was wildly successful at LSU as a player, an assistant coach and then as the head coach but was forced to resign in 2007 when allegations surfaced that she had an affair with a player.

She has gone on to coaching successes overseas in pro leagues where WNBA players compete in the off-season. More important, she goes way back with Sky star center Sylvia Fowles, an LSU alum. Chatman was Fowles' head coach at LSU through her junior year.

Intriguing, to say the least.