Before this season began, Chicago was the only WNBA team not to have played in the post-season. That distinction ends next week when the Sky begins its first-ever second season as the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
Drafting Elena Delle Donne as their first pick in April, the continued development of center Sylvia Fowles, and guard Epiphany Prince’s steady play are just three long paragraphs in the Sky’s season-long success story. But the league’s only Black female head coach and general manager deserves more than a passing notice.
Before the season, some hinted that if Chicago didn’t advance this year, Pokey Chatman’s job might be in jeopardy. Now, and deservedly so, she is a coach of the year candidate.
Wearing two important hats when it comes to roster decisions, Chatman clearly has leverage. “It does help, because you have the opportunity to get what you want, who you want and
[where] you want them,” admitted the third-year Chicago coach.
After completing college at LSU in 1991, the Ama, Louisiana native stepped off the court as a stellar point guard and onto the sidelines as an assistant coach at her alma mater. She was named LSU head coach in 2003-04 mid-season, when then-head coach Sue Gunter was forced to take a medical leave, and won 47 of her first 50 games. In three seasons as permanent head coach, LSU thrice finished in the Final Four.
Chatman also coached overseas and won the 2010 Euroleague championship as Russian Spartak Moscow head coach before being named to her present dual post in 2010.
Unfortunately, it also seems that Chatman, as a Black female head coach, is becoming a rare sight these days. “There’s just not that many [Black females] going into the [coaching] field,” she said.
The latest NCAA race and gender figures show only a four-percent increase of Black head coaches of women’s teams in all three divisions combined since 1995. It’s almost a percent lower when you take out HBCUs.
Conversely, the highest-ever number of Black WNBA coaches was five (2000, 2008, 2011), and the number of Black assistant coaches has dropped from an all-time high of 15 (2004) to nine this season: New York and San Antonio each has two Black assistants, while all other clubs except Atlanta, Indiana, Phoenix, Seattle and Washington have one Black assistant. It should be noted, however, that Atlanta’s head coach is Black (Fred Williams), and before he was fired in August, Corey Gaines was both coach and GM in Phoenix.
When asked if Black female coaches at any level get enough time to build and sustain a winner, Chatman warns that qualified Blacks first must be hired in such situations, then afterwards be given the time to build a winning program.
“Are they [the hiring decision-makers] looking to hire [Blacks]?” asked the Chicago coach out loud. “Because there are so few, you want to make sure that the quality person is going to have some success, and that will open up the ears and eyes of everybody else.
“If you want to put people in position to be successful, they have to be qualified. The biggest thing is making sure we have qualified people for these positions, because the eyes are definitely watching.
“We need quality people not only to open doors, but also windows and everything for everybody else,” stressed Chatman.
It’s nice to see Coach Chatman experience the fruits of her labor, because this doesn’t always occur for Black head coaches.