The first female coach to win a WNBA championship as leader of the Seattle Storm, Anne Donovan was formally announced as the new Connecticut Sun coach Thursday. Donovan is currently the head coach at Seton Hall and will resign at the conclusion of the college season.
The Pirates are 5-8 this season and 2-30 overall in Big East play since Donovan took the position in 2010.
Donovan replaces Mike Thibault at Connecticut. He coached the Sun for 10 seasons and in a unique twist, Donovan’s Storm defeated Thibault’s Sun for the 2004 WNBA title.
“This was a pretty rapid process, it’s only been in the last couple of weeks that we’ve spoken several times and reached an agreement,” said Donovan at press conference Thursday that was streamed live on YouTube. She’s currently one of five female coaches in the WNBA.
“I am really excited to join the Connecticut Sun,” she said.
Donovan was hired by Seattle in 2003. She made risky offseason moves in free-agency to form a championship team in 2004. However the roster, which included stars Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird and Finals MVP Betty Lennox, began to deteriorate after the title. Donovan abruptly resigned via email in November 2007. She had one year remaining on her contract, prohibiting her from coaching elsewhere in the WNBA in 2008.
Donovan resurfaced in the league as an assistant for the New York Liberty in 2009. She was named interim coach midway through the season and finished 7-10 that summer. Elevated to coach for the 2010 season, the Liberty was 22-12 and were swept in the Eastern Conference Finals by Atlanta.
“It was pretty abrupt,” said WNBA MVP Jackson in 2009 of Donovan’s Storm resignation. They reunited at the 2008 Beijing Games, Donovan coaching Team USA to gold and Jackson as Australia’s star center.
“After they beat us (in the Olympics), we sort of hugged it out, but never really had a conversation about her departure from here,” Jackson continued. “I don’t think anyone did. It was just one of those things that was kept fairly well in-house, and we have no idea what really went down.”
At Thursday’s press conference, Donovan was asked about the Seattle situation. She stated the roster needed to be overturned and there needed to be a freshness. “I think it worked out well for the both of us,” she said. The Storm, which also was under new ownership after the departure of the Sonics, hired Brian Agler in 2008 and he won the franchise’s second WNBA title in 2010.
Donovan’s hiring coupled with the Storm’s original coach Lin Dunn, leader of the reigning champion Indiana Fever, means all of Seattle’s former coaches are back in the league. All were hired by Karen Bryant, the team’s president and CEO. She called to congratulate Donovan Thursday. The two remained friends, Bryant welcoming Donovan back to games at KeyArena the past two seasons.
“It speaks to the caliber of people we had in our organization,” Bryant said via phone regarding the Storm ties. “I’m happy for her and glad to see her back in the league. She’s a quality coach.”
Born in New Jersey, Donovan began her WNBA career as the interim coach of the expansion Indiana Fever in 2000. She also coached the Charlotte Sting (2001-2002).
In addition to the Beijing Games, Donovan was an assistant coach on the gold medal winning teams in 1998 and 2004. She also won gold medals as a player at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. Donovan, 51, was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995 and was one of the 26 inductees in the inaugural class of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.
After helping Old Dominion win consecutive AIAW national titles, Donovan started her coaching career as an assistant at her alma mater (1989-1995) before taking the job at East Carolina (1995-1998). She also was the head coach of the Philadelphia Rage (1998) in the defunct ABL.
With the Sun, Donovan inherits a talented, youthful roster that includes reigning MVP Tina Charles and Olympians Asjha Jones and Kara Lawson. Connecticut has advanced to eight WNBA playoff appearances but has never won a WNBA title.
The Sun is the final WNBA team to fill its head coach vacancy. All of the changes were in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta hiring former assistant Fred Williams. Bill Laimbeer, who won three league championships with Detroit, was hired by New York and Thibault will lead the Washington Mystics this summer.
The WNBA draft will be aired April 15 on ESPN2 at 5pm (PT). Training camp is expected to open later that month.
The 2013 schedule hasn’t been released but could be announced later this month along with the start of WNBA free agency.