Brian Agler's hiring in Dallas is more of the same in the WNBA

The WNBA's last -- for now anyway -- head-coach opening was officially filled Tuesday, and the league's 2019 schedule was released. Despite having one very big job still to be filled -- that of WNBA president -- we have a clearer picture now of what next season will look like.

For one thing, there will be more male head coaches in the league (seven), than female (five). Brian Agler, who has led two franchises to WNBA titles, was announced as the Dallas Wings' new coach. It was a position everyone pegged him for once it was revealed in November that he had resigned from the Los Angeles Sparks.

Former NBA player and coach Derek Fisher took over the Sparks, and former Minnesota Lynx assistant James Wade got the Chicago Sky's job. The other men coaching in the WNBA are Connecticut's Curt Miller, Las Vegas' Bill Laimbeer, Seattle's Dan Hughes and Washington's Mike Thibault.

The women coaching are Atlanta's Nicki Collen, Indiana's Pokey Chatman, Minnesota's Cheryl Reeve, New York's Katie Smith and Phoenix's Sandy Brondello.

Is this a concern? Well, on one hand, we have seen some breakthroughs in women getting jobs in the NBA, including Monday's news that longtime Fever executive Kelly Krauskopf was named assistant general manager for the Indiana Pacers. Still, the opportunities for women in the NBA (or men's college basketball for that matter) remain pretty miniscule.

Greg Bibb, president and CEO of the Dallas Wings, said the organization considered "nine or 10 candidates," including former WNBA player Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who was Dallas' interim coach at the end of last season after Fred Williams was fired. McWilliams-Franklin was considered one of the finalists.

But Bibb said McWilliams-Franklin got an opportunity to join the NBA Associate Program, a two-year, immersion-based career development opportunity to learn about the NBA's structure and operations.

"Taj was selected to that program and decided to pursue that," Bibb said. "So she removed herself from the [Wings' hiring] process.

"For our roster, in terms of our youth and where we were heading, it was vital that we not only got a good coach but a coach that fit with our team. We took a left turn when Brian became available. When he did so, we moved quickly through the process with him."

Agler has spent his career coaching women's college and pro basketball and won two championships in the short-lived American Basketball League as well as in the WNBA with Seattle (2010) and Los Angeles (2016). Agler said he resigned on Nov. 1 because he felt it was just time to move on from the Sparks, and he wasn't allowed to talk to Dallas until the first of December. From then, as Bibb indicated, everything happened rapidly.

Considering Agler's success, it's not surprising the Wings hired him. It's reminiscent of when veteran head coach Mike Thibault was let go by Connecticut after the 2012 season and was hired not long after by Washington. Thibault led the Mystics to their first appearance in the WNBA Finals this past season.

Bibb highlighted the primary requirements he had for the Wings job and they included player development, helping establish a winning culture and ability to embrace and use advanced analytics. The biggest personnel questions that the Wings face are in regard to when guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who is pregnant, may return, and if center Liz Cambage, who had an MVP-caliber season in 2018, will come back to the WNBA. Drafted No. 2 overall in 2011, Cambage has played just three seasons in the league.

Agler said Tuesday that he wants Diggins-Smith just to focus on her health and pregnancy and not worry yet about any details of her return. He also said the Wings would need to have a pretty good indication from the Australian Cambage, who is now playing in China, what her plans would be before the free-agency negotiation period begins in mid-January. (Free agents can sign beginning Feb. 1.)

Agler said he believes regardless of the situations with Diggins-Smith and Cambage, there is the potential for the Wings to be a better defensive team, which is one of his strengths. He also sees growth potential for the organization becoming a more recognized franchise in the Dallas-Forth Worth area.

It's easy to understand why, with his background and track record, Agler was the Wings' choice. And unlike the Sparks -- whose GM, Penny Toler, said they considered only one candidate, Fisher -- it appears the Wings did have a thorough coaching search.

Still, there has to be the acknowledgement that in a league in which African-American women make up so much of the playing rosters, Chatman is the only female African-American head coach.

And it remains to be seen who will be hired as league president, as chief operating officer and as senior vice president of league operations -- or if there is any restructuring of the other two jobs after a new president is hired.

There's also the fact that the players' union opted out of the current collective bargaining agreement. While the 2019 season is not affected, there will need to be a lot of negotiation throughout the next year to ensure a new agreement before the 2020 WNBA season.

So it has been a pretty busy WNBA offseason thus far with more big decisions to come.
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