WNBA: New York Liberty Change Coaches in Playoff Bid

By Mel Greenberg

 The last time the New York Liberty changed coaches in 2004, the team had come off a difficult road swing prior to an easing of the schedule when  Carol Blazejowski decided to replace Richie Adubato with assistant coach Pat Coyle.

On Friday, a change was made with Blazejowski lettting Coyle go and elevating assistant Anne Donovan to interim head coach, for now, prior to the start of a challenging road swing.

The move creates an opening for an assistant to replace Donovan and while Blazejowski wasn't offering any names, a likely appointee could be former Sancramento coach Jenny Boucek who was let go by the Monarchs late last month.

Boucek was an assistant to Donovan when the Seattle Storm won the WNBA title in 2004.

Coyle's ouster also impacts the search for the staff who will work for Geno Auriemma at the Olympics in London in 2012. Many considered her on the short list of two required candidates from the WNBA - with others being Connecticut's Mike Thibault, an assistant to Anne Donovan in Beijing; and possibly new Minnesota coach Jennifer Gillom.

In a sense, Coyle was doomed when  Donovan, who coached the United States to a gold medal ,  joined the staff prior to the start of the season.

It's not that Donovan was seeking Coyle's job, but in having the storied Hall of Famer in the building, Blazejowski could make a move if she felt it necessary based on the team's performance.

Otherwise, considering that last year's playoff participiants - the champion Detroit Shock and the Los Angeles Sparks - are also outside the postseason loop at the moment, the Liberty front office head might have waited a bit longer.

All three teams still have a shot at replacing the teams just inside the cutoff point. With a little more than month left, an injury or hot hand can quickly change the projection.

In one way, Donovan's availability occurred at the right moment for the Liberty.

Had North Carolina State handled the coaching search a bit differently after Kay Yow lost her courageous battle to breast cancer, Donovan might have landed with the Wolf Pack.

The Richie Adubato era actually ended with Coyle's ouster, the first time she has been fired since entering the coaching ranks.

A former star in the Philadelphia Catholic League with her twin sister Mary at West Catholic, Coyle went on to also star at Rutgers, finishing as a member of the AIAW national champions in 1982.

Her first college job was as an assistant at Miami under Lin Dunn, who is now coaching the Eastern-leading Indiana Fever. Coyle also worked at her alma mater under Women's Basketball Hall of Famer Theresa Grentz and also at St. Joseph's under Jim Foster, who is now at Ohio State.

She then got her first head coaching job, turning around Loyola of Maryland's program to win a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title and ensuing NCAA tournament bid.

Coyle will probably not be unemployed for long if the right college job opens after next season. A year ago, several schools with openings had interest but were unable to pry her loose from an existing contract in New York.

Of course, at that point Marianne Stanley was two years removed as an assistant in New York, having moved on to Rutgers and then to Los Angeles as an assistant to Michael Cooper, who is departing for Southern Cal after the season.

Although Donovan's title is of an interim nature, she will likely gain the job in her own right if the Liberty make the playoffs, similar to the way Coyle evolved after being a mid-summer replacement.

But if not, Stanley could be available if she doesn't succeed Cooper and would consider returning to New York.

And should that happen, consider this oddity.

With former Rutgers stars Kia Vaughn and Essence Carson on the Liberty roster and the possibility that Epiphanny Prince could be similarly drafted next spring, Stanley would be reunited with the three mainstays of the Scarlet Knights' run to the NCAA championship game in 2007.