October 21, 2022
Tracing the path of Curt Miller leaving Connecticut for Los Angeles
Despite Sun success, divergent paths for Connecticut and the man who built them
By Jacqueline LeBlanc, Tee Baker and Howard Megdal
In the jubilant moments following the Connecticut Sun’s Game 5 win over the Chicago Sky that catapulted them into the WNBA Finals, a reporter asked Curt Miller whether he’d done enough to secure his future with the franchise that hired him back in 2016.
“Ask my boss back there!” Miller said, pointing to the back of the room, where Sun team president Jen Rizzotti was standing. “Ask my boss.”
Just six weeks later, the Los Angeles Sparks made official what had been long-rumored in WNBA circles, that Curt Miller will be the franchise’s next head coach. A two-time WNBA Coach of the Year (2017, 2021) and one-time Executive of the Year (2017), Curt Miller coached the Sun for the past seven seasons; he has served as the franchise’s general manager since September of 2016. In seven seasons as head coach, Miller led the Sun to a 140-86 regular season record and two Finals appearances, in 2019 and 2022.
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Multiple sources told The Next that the parting was ultimately friendly — and the statements released reinforced that on Friday.
“I want to thank Eric Holoman and the entire Sparks ownership group for the opportunity to coach one of the iconic teams in women’s professional sports,” Miller said. “The Los Angeles Sparks have a history of winning championships in front of one of the most passionate fanbases in sports, and it’s an honor to be named Sparks head coach.”
Connecticut Sun President Jen Rizzotti thanked Miller in a statement released shortly after the announcement:
“Curt and I have had multiple conversations about the future over the past few weeks. As his friend, I wanted to be supportive of the fact that he could be ready for a change,” Rizzotti said in the statement. “On behalf of the Connecticut Sun I want to thank him for his commitment to the organization and for the level of sustained success he has achieved.”
But Miller was hired by Chris Sienko, not Rizzotti, and in a number of ways the continued fit with Miller in Connecticut was an imperfect one for both sides. Rizzotti is the team president, charged with business operations, but she is a well-established basketball figure, with time as a player and head coach, and naturally, with basketball opinions of her own.
The circumstances surrounding the departure indicate a disconnect — that both sides felt it was time for a change was likely the reason it could be friendly. Miller did not depart following an unsuccessful season — few could have expected more of the Sun in 2022 than reaching the WNBA Finals, especially in the absence of point guard Jasmine Thomas. Indeed, the expectation internally in Connecticut is to find a head coach and general manager who will continue to keep the team at the top of the success cycle, not to rebuild. And Miller, by leaving his GM job in Connecticut for a purely head coaching gig in Los Angeles, is putting additional people above him in the chain of command where he works.
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As for Connecticut’s plan now, expect it to vary from Miller’s tenure, sources familiar with the team’s thinking tell The Next. The Sun are in the midst of a search they hope will lead to separate people in the jobs of head coach and general manager, with a landscape ahead, including likely expansion, that will make both jobs plenty challenging on their own. While the organization would prefer to hire a general manager first, given the concurrent searches by both the Dallas Wings and the Indiana Fever, it is expected that the Sun will waste no time in creating a list of finalists as soon as this weekend.
Among those potentially on that list are Latricia Trammell, most recently an assistant with the Los Angeles Sparks and Brandi Poole, who has been a top assistant to Miller in Connecticut and has spent 17 years on the sideline with Miller in the WNBA and college.
Poole has been the staff’s voice on offense since reuniting with Miller for Connecticut in 2018. Chris Koclanes has been Miller’s other top assistant and was hired as part of Miller’s original staff. Koclanes has mostly led the Sun’s defense, which topped the league by a mile in 2021 and was second-best in 2022.
Miller told reporters during a WNBA Finals practice in September that Poole “has been ready for over a decade to be head coach,” and should be mentioned for every WNBA opening because of her experience and talent.
Poole took over head coaching duties for the Sun a few times in 2021 and 2022 as Miller missed games for various reasons. Koclanes got his shot at running the show early on this season as both Miller and Poole missed time for health and safety protocols for a few games.
“I could turn into a full time GM and either one of them could run this program,” Miller said during that practice.
Specifically not on either the general manager or head coach list? Rizzotti, who sources familiar said would prefer to focus on continuing to grow the Sun’s business profile and work in the community, while providing input on basketball from time-to-time as well.
That input, under Miller, included an extended huddle with him prior to Game 3 of the WNBA Finals in Connecticut. The overlap between basketball and business led to significant frustration at times on the basketball side, particularly in light of the success Miller and his staff had with the Sun.
Miller has the fifth highest winning percentage in WNBA history (61.9%), and ranks 11th in overall regular season wins (140). In 2015, Miller served as assistant coach of the Sparks under then-head coach Brian Agler. Prior to his WNBA debut, he had two NCAA stints as head coach of Bowling Green State University (2001-2012) and Indiana University (2012-2014).
Luck didn’t exactly fall Miller’s way over the last few seasons as Connecticut peaked as one of the best teams in the league. After being minutes away from their elusive first WNBA title in 2019, and adding DeWanna Bonner and Briann January‘s championship and veteran leadership in the 2020 offseason, the Sun never got to see the full potential of their envisioned team.
Pivoting through adversity and still finding sustained success was a popular and legitimate talking point with Miller throughout the last few seasons. Jonquel Jones opted out of the 2020 season, Alyssa Thomas missed the majority of the 2021 season after tearing her achilles, and Jasmine Thomas only played five games before tearing her ACL. Bria Hartley signed with the team midway through the season before suffering the same fate in just her third game. The Sun struggled to find a true point guard replacement, while also balancing four superstar players in the front court. It stifled the offense at times, and ultimately hurt them in their pursuit for a WNBA championship after falling to the Las Vegas Aces.
“Curt brings extensive experience as a WNBA head coach, where he has won at a historic pace and helped develop several All-WNBA and MVP-level players,” Sparks Managing Partner Eric Holoman said. “His teams play with an intensity and attention to detail our players will embrace, and a passion our fans will appreciate.”
The Sparks are the last WNBA franchise to win back-to-back titles (2001 and 2002), and last won a title in 2016. The franchise is hoping to reverse their fortunes after a disappointing 2022 campaign, missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season. The gap between what Miller did in Connecticut and what the Sparks have done over that same timeframe is stark.
“I’m ready to work alongside our owners, players, and entire organization to help build a team that will compete for WNBA championships and make our fans and partners proud,” Miller said. “It’s a privilege to hold this position, and I’m committed to adding to the incredible basketball legacy of this city and franchise.”
Miller will be formally introduced as head coach of the Sparks at a later date. Precisely when will be up to his boss — and it’s a different boss now.
Jackie Powell contributed reporting to this story.