The Phoenix Mercury introduced newly hired head coach Nate Tibbetts on Friday. The 46-year-old sees the new role as a “great opportunity to become a head coach and develop further,” he said said.
He has no experience in the WNBA, but it does exist He is reportedly currently the highest-paid coach in the league. That title previously belonged to Becky Hammon, who led the Las Vegas Aces to just their second WNBA championship in the two years since she was hired.
The addition of Tibbetts was heavily scrutinized by prominent figures in women’s basketball, including the former Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw.
Phoenix made the next decision to add “Girl Dad” when he listed Tibbetts’ qualifications on social media, a move that only appeared to spark more criticism of gender bias in his hiring and pay.
While the former Orlando Magic assistant declined to discuss his salary on Friday, he did address the backlash.
“I don’t really live online. I talk to the players and greet them.” [me] The way they did it, to be completely honest, I just stopped worrying about things that they don’t worry about,” he said.
During his 13 seasons in the NBA, Tibbetts also had stints with the Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers. In addition to his basketball playing career at the University of South Dakota, he has experience as a head coach in the G League.
“I know I have to rely on our team to learn how this league works. That’s why I’m here,” he said told reporters Friday.
Mercury star Diana Taurasi offered Tibbetts public support before his introduction, saying she was “thrilled” that he decided to come to the WNBA after 14 years at the “highest level.”
When asked Thursday about his lack of experienceShe pointed to former Mercury head coach Paul Westhead, who led the team to a title in 2007 after “never coaching women before.”
“So I have pretty good experience in this area,” Taurasi added with a smile. The decorated veteran reportedly sat front row at Friday’s press conference.
The WNBA has changed since 2020, when only four of 12 head coaches were women and only one was a Black woman. At the end of that season, nine head coaches were women, three of whom were Black. Tibbetts is one of three male head coaches in the league, a fact he acknowledged.
“I understand, I’m sensitive to the situation,” he said. “I take responsibility for that, I know people will question it and whether they agree or not, I will do the best job I can and do.”
Tibbetts’ arrival comes months after Phoenix hired Golden State Warriors executive Nick U’Ren as general manager. Team owner Mat Ishbia has made a splash, recently investing $100 million to fund the Mercury’s state-of-the-art facilities.
The Mercury finished this season on an 11-game losing streak that culminated in a league-worst record of 9-31. After Vanessa Nygaard’s fall, interim head coach Nikki Blue was forced to take control of the situation. Some fans wondered if Blue would be considered for the permanent head coach position, with players describing her as “an amazing asset” during final discussions.
U’Ren sat next to Tibbetts at the podium Friday and said he felt the team could go in a different direction, but he believed in what the league represented.
“As we lead a WNBA organization, we know that diversity and opportunity are critical. I would say our process, our candidate pool and our finalist pool reflected that,” U’Ren said.
He promised to take action to increase diversity and opportunity within the Mercury organization in the future.