December 15, 2020 

‘A small version of myself’: Vickie Johnson era begins in Dallas

Aspirations to lead the league in pace, steals

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The Dallas Wings have a new era in a number of ways, with Vickie Johnson at the helm as head coach.

After the departure of Brian Agler, Wings president and CEO Greg Bibb was on the search for a new head coach and was looking for someone who could relate to the players, with a playing career a key component of any candidate’s resume.

Johnson will become the only active Black female head coach in the WNBA and the fourth head coach of the Wings since the franchise moved to Dallas in 2016, as well as their fourth coach since 2018. She will bring in a new staff with her as she assumes the head coaching position.

Not only is she bringing a new staff with her, she also intends to establish a new culture of her own with the franchise.

“Well, the most important thing is trust,” Johnson told The Next. “Build a foundation from the ground up. So we know the structure of it, what it can hold under pressure. And when adversity comes our way and we’re able to stand and as one and not fall. We’ll stand up in good times and bad times, winning in our losing. I don’t say we’ve lost. It’s an opportunity to learn and get better. And that’s what I will put pressure on our team to be a small version of myself and the way I approached it.”

Bibb noted the amount of respect that Johnson has around the league as being a factor in the decision for him to choose her. Bibb took positive things from Johnson’s time in San Antonio during that eight-win season, pointing out the challenging situation at hand back in 2017. He also cited her time in Las Vegas as a key selling point for her candidacy.

The consistent part of the Dallas Wings has been inconsistency, thanks in large part to a pair of star players, Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith, asking to be traded. The result has been a delay in creating some permanent culture in and around the team, and Bibb’s hiring process was geared around trying to define that for the Wings in a tangible way.

“I like playing with pace and I think it creates exciting basketball,” Bibb said. “…So when Vickie and I started talking about the opportunity with the team. And that was music to my ears to hear her talk about increasing our pace because I think she’s dead right on that. That’s something we need to do to improve as a basketball team.”

Johnson talked about seeing what the team can hold under pressure and a change like this within the culture being established would give this team an immediate boost. We’ve seen flashes of great basketball from this young group and what they could be. Youth as a barrier to growth can only stand for so long. And consistency must become a regular part of how Dallas plays.

Johnson will be at home in Dallas — a Texas native, she wants to be there. Johnson said she wants to lead the league in pace and in steals. Last season the Wings ranked fifth in the WNBA in steals, but were 10th in pace.

“Well, I didn’t just want to coach any team,” Johnson said. “Greg said it earlier, I live in Dallas. I’ve been here since 2004. So, to have an opportunity to not have to pack up and leave, I have left my home the last 23 years. So I think the biggest thing for me just looking at the roster and the possibility. These young players in this accomplish a lot of things in a short period of time.”

Who Johnson will coach remains largely undefined, with an entire offseason ahead. Between her staff, the free agent market and what the Wings plan to do with the picks that they have in 2021, the Wings could look very different by the time the 2021 season tips off. Johnson stressed patience with that process, which in some ways begins anew now.

“I just want them to continue to grow as people and as players and we’re going to build something great here,” Johnson said. “Greg and I, we will build a championship team, but it takes time. And we know that we’re really committed to work and we’re willing to push the players to a limit that they have never gone [to] before. But we’re up for the challenge.”

Written by Drew Ivery

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