Vanessa Nygaard Fired As Head Coach Of Phoenix Mercury
Photo by Nick Wass/AP
Phoenix Mercury Head Coach Vanessa Nygaard was relieved of her duties Sunday night, following a 23-point loss to the Seattle Storm Saturday evening.
Nygaard's time in Phoenix never really seemed to find it's footing. She was brought in at the beginning of last year with Phoenix coming off of a loss in the WNBA Finals to the Chicago Sky.
The first hurdle thrown at Coach Nygaard was center Brittney Griner being arrested and held prisoner in Russia. With Griner being a pillar of that organization for the last decade, it comes as a shock to no one how difficult transitioning to playing without her and worrying about her safety was for them.
The 2022 season for Nygaard was not what you would want out of a first year coach. Nygaard was reportedly in multiple disagreements, both on camera and off, with point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith. This was highlighted by multiple events. The first being an altercation between Diggins-Smith and guard Diana Taurasi on the bench where they had to be separated. Secondly, Diggins-Smith cussing at Coach Nygaard as they were walking off the court after a loss. Finally, Nygaard making a full-throated argument as to why Taurasi was wrongfully kept out of the 2022 WNBA All-Star Game all the while seemingly unsupportive of Diggins-Smith's All-Star game nod.
If all that wasn't enough, the Mercury also, to the shock of many, cut ties with center Tina Charles in the midst of their 15-21 campaign.
Coming into the 2023 season, there was some roster turnover that most believed wouldn't favor the Mercury. However, they did get the biggest return of all: Griner. With Griner back on U.S., soil it almost seemed like the magical run for Phoenix was being written for this season. That ultimately fell apart on opening night in Los Angeles.
Phoenix opened against the Los Angeles Sparks and the dreams seemed to dissipate shortly thereafter. The team got off to a clunky start and afterwards, fans got another glimpse of Coach Nygaard's rocky time. After suffering the 94-71 loss, she proceeded to essentially belittle the LA fans for not selling out the arena.
"Come on now, L.A., we didn't sell out the arena for [Griner]," Nygaard said after the loss. "Like, I expected more, to be honest. It was great, it was loud. But how was it not a sellout? How was it not a sellout?"
This was not met with the greatest of reactions. No one wants to lose by 20 points on opening night on the road, but condemning an entire fan base to the national media is not a good look.
Phoenix did not sell out their opening home game this season either and no quote was given by Nygaard.
Putting the puzzle pieces together since Nygaard took over in Phoenix, the writing was on the wall early. She never really seemed to win over the fan base, it didn't seem like the players took to her well enough and the production on the court was less than desirable.
The Mercury have promoted lead assistant Nikki Blue to interim head coach to finish out the season.