September 15, 2022
What direction is the Indiana Fever coaching search taking?
Positionless philosophy key for Lin Dunn
The Indiana Fever moved on from interim head coach Carlos Knox roughly two weeks ago. Knox aided player development during his lone season coaching the red and blue, but his 3-24 record was too much to overlook. Interim General Manager Lin Dunn decided a new head coach would be better to implement her plan for improving the Fever.
“I think the key piece right now is who will lead this team?” Dunn said on the Locked On Women’s Basketball podcast. “Who will the head coach be? And who will take us back to where we belong?”
Dunn is now in charge of the team’s coaching search. She will hire Indiana’s third head coach since 2019, which was the most recent season that the franchise won double-digit games. The Fever have been in the WNBA basement for a few years now, and the next head coach will have expectations of changing that.
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2022 second overall pick and All-Rookie team member NaLyssa Smith has a winning mindset at the top of her wish list of traits for the Fever’s next coach. “Just someone that wants to win,” Smith said at USA Basketball training camp practice. “The Fever have been through a lot. We all want to win. You’ve got a whole bunch of players that want to win. So just coming in with that mindset that we’re going to come in here and change this program.”
Stephanie White, a former WNBA player and longtime coach, guided the Indiana Fever to a 20-14 record in 2015 before coaching the team to a finals appearance. The Fever have not had a winning record since. Four different coaches have led the roster in that span, but none of them have been able to pilot Indiana back into being a postseason mainstay.
Coaches with different skill sets — some better suited for winning games, others more effective at player development — have been given the opportunity to push the franchise forward. But the results haven’t been there, and the Fever are once again on the hunt for the right person for the job.
Dunn deemed that a coaching change was needed at the end of the season when Knox and his staff didn’t achieve her goals of “sustained success.” Indiana ended the season on an 18 game losing streak.
Knox won his first game as the Indiana Fever interim head coach, but he only won two more games for the remainder of the campaign. Still, many players on the roster thought he did a good job given the circumstances, and his skill development background did provide value to the franchise.
Dunn, and Smith, are hoping the next coach can be a winner and developer. Smith was happy when Knox was promoted mid-season, so naturally she shared a feeling of gratitude that she was able to play for the ex-IUPUI star player.
“It’s a game of business. He didn’t get a big opportunity, a long opportunity. He only got one season to prove himself which is a hard task to do,” the forward said of Knox. “I’m blessed that he got that opportunity and I’m happy to see who our next coach is.”
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Dunn has already begun the search for the Fever’s next head coach. With the NCAA season beginning in less than two months, hiring someone before then is imperative. That will give Dunn and the new coach time to strategize, bond, plan scouting operations, and more.
“I think it would be in our benefit to have a head coach in place sometime in early October, mid October,” Dunn said. “Now she and I are connecting, we’re getting on the same page.”
Being on the same page would allow whoever is chosen to coach and Dunn to evaluate the Fever’s talent and roster as well. Indiana has a pivotal offseason approaching from a team-building perspective, so the earlier the organization can finalize a coaching hire the better.
As of now, no specific candidates have been named for the opening. Given Smith’s desire for a winner and Dunn’s expansive list of connections, someone with prior coaching experience — particularly in the postseason — could have an advantage over other candidates. Dunn also will likely place value on a coach who emphasizes defense, something Dunn herself did as a coach and a trait she noted as a positive in Knox.
On the aforementioned Locked On Women’s Basketball podcast episode, Dunn did share that she will reach out to the now-retired Sue Bird about the coaching vacancy. It isn’t known if Bird has any interest in becoming a head coach so soon after her playing days. Dunn drafted Bird into the league in 2002.
Bird’s Seattle Storm team just lost in the WNBA semifinals last week. But Seattle won a championship in 2020 as well as 2018, and Dunn is hoping to emulate certain parts of the last four WNBA championship teams with the Fever. The late 2010s Storm, along with the 2019 Washington Mystics and 2021 Chicago Sky, could provide a blueprint for the mid 2020s Indiana Fever, and a coach who is able to copy parts of those team’s styles will be considered for the Fever’s coaching opening.
Many, though not all, of the league’s recent champions finished in the top half of the league in pace and defense. Perhaps those two broad areas of the game will be strengths of the Fever’s next captain.
Smith, for her part, is learning how to play at different speeds right now with Team USA. “It’s something I want to take back to my team. Change the pace of our program, run a lot faster,” she said.
If recent champions tell us anything, it’s that Smith and the next Indiana Fever coach will have the team moving faster. The franchise will hope that finally translates to movement in the standings.
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