October 2, 2023 

What the Chicago Sky players want in their next head coach and general manager

The Sky's first order of business this offseason is hiring two key leaders

A whirlwind Chicago Sky season filled with adversity ended with a lopsided loss to the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces in the first round of the WNBA playoffs. Now, one of the most important offseasons in franchise history begins.

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The Sky announced last week they would not retain interim head coach and general manager Emre Vatansever, who was a longtime Sky assistant before he took over for James Wade midway through the season. The Sky must address the vacant general manager and head coach positions and fill out their roster. There are still several months before free agency begins, but the front office hiring process can begin immediately.

In exit interviews, after the season ended, the returning players were asked about their preferences when it comes to hiring for these positions. Their responses provide insight into the important offseason ahead.

Which players will return for the Sky?

The Sky have six players under contract for next season. Recently re-signed All-Star Kahleah Copper leads the way. In addition, Marina Mabrey, Isabelle Harrison, Elizabeth Williams, Dana Evans and Sika Koné are set to return. The sentiment around the Sky is that Harrison and Williams will start in the post next season.

Key free agents this offseason include starters Alanna Smith and Courtney Williams. This season, Smith started in place of Harrison, who tore her left meniscus and missed the entire season. Smith, now an unrestricted free agent, put up career highs in points, rebounds, blocks, steals and minutes. She was also one of three WNBA players this season, along with Elizabeth Williams, to average more than 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks in under 30 minutes per game. Smith finished third in voting for WNBA Most Improved Player and is due for a pay raise.

Courtney Williams historically has played shooting guard but was asked to be the team’s starting point guard this season. She responded by averaging a career-high 6.3 assists per game and recording two triple-doubles.

The Sky also have the 17th pick in the 2024 draft after trading multiple first-round picks to the Dallas Wings for Mabrey.

Separating the head coach and general manager positions

Entering this season, Wade held both the head coach and general manager positions. After his abrupt departure for the Toronto Raptors, the Sky decided to split the positions moving forward. Copper spoke about that separation during her exit interview.

“I know for sure that the positions are going to be separate, which is great,” she said. She explained that it allows the head coach to focus on the head coach’s responsibilities and the general manager to focus on general managing.

Copper also noted how helpful it was as a player to have the positions be separate. “If you have a problem with something, you shouldn’t have to go to the same [person]. You shouldn’t have to go to your head coach. You should be going to the GM,” she said.

Qualities players are looking for in new leadership

In the general manager role, Copper is looking for experience. “You want someone who’s been around the game, [is] smart and really can handle it,” she said. “It” refers to the challenges of a full WNBA season, especially one like the Sky experienced this year.

In a head coach, players cited the ability to foster confidence and create a leadership culture as things they wanted. Elizabeth Williams stressed, “The biggest thing is somebody that brings a lot of confidence in their players and holds players equally accountable … It’s not an easy thing to do, right? Because there are a lot of people that know X’s and O’s, but sometimes it’s the communication piece or the ability to get the best out of every player.”

Mabrey emphasized the importance of setting the right culture from the outset. “You want really good strong leaders in here, and whoever that may be, you want to set a great cultural foundation of leadership, of trust, love, and family.”

Focusing on their own growth

A few returners were focused on their health and individual growth rather than the vacant positions.

Asked about the front office vacancies, Harrison said, “I don’t know. And I haven’t really started those talks. I’m not in those talks right now.” She is focused on recovering from her meniscus surgery and getting her body healthy.

“For the past couple of months, I really have been selfish and worrying about my body and what that needs to be about,” she said. “So I haven’t really asked those questions. Probably, maybe in the next couple of weeks, I’ll start leaning onto that. But yeah, I’m just trying to do my rehab right now and get my body OK.”

Evans is looking to build on her great third season as a professional. This offseason, she plans to continue to ask more of herself. “I always want more and more, and I’m never going to be comfortable or satisfied,” she said. “I want to just continue to be me. I want to continue to play more. I want to be a starter. I want to do this. I want to do that. I can name you a list of things that I want to do. But I’m sure you guys know, I’m extremely competitive, and I’m never going to be satisfied. And I’m never going to stop working for what I want.”


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Waiting for answers

Ultimately, the players trust ownership to fill the vacancies with the best individuals available. Evans was sure to highlight that, although she has not been too involved in filling the positions, “They know that we are winners and we want to win. So I trust that they’ll make the best decisions for us.”

Evans added, “I just had a conversation with [team principal owner] Michael [Alter], and he seems pretty confident in what they have going. So I trust them and whatever they have. I’m just going to make sure I do my job.”

Look for the Sky to fill the positions sooner rather than later. When asked whether she preferred the head coach position to be filled quickly, Elizabeth Williams said, “I would say earlier is better generally. But also, that’s not a decision that wants to feel rushed, either. But I think always it’s always good to know sooner rather than later.”

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Sky have spoken with Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame player and former New Orleans Pelicans Assistant Teresa Weatherspoon, and Grizzlies assistant Sonia Raman.

The players view this past season as a foundational year for the franchise, but they’re looking forward to a fresh start next season.

“A fresh start on a new season obviously helps,” Mabrey said, “just to start from the beginning with whoever it may be.”

Written by Monique Newton

Monique Newton is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at Northwestern University. She covers the Chicago Sky for The Next and has lived in Chicago since 2019. An Oberlin College graduate, Monique is a 2x Division III National Track and Field Champion.

2 Comments

  1. Justin on October 3, 2023 at 11:46 am

    I hope they can bring Gardner back too – if the rest of the core remains and Harrison is ready to go, she cold be an X-factor like she was in 2022. All that plus growth from Koné and a good motivator as head coach could be the start of something!

    • Mel on October 3, 2023 at 2:58 pm

      Agreed on Gardner! I’d also like to see Smith stay for sure and Williams if it makes sense.

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