September 24, 2023 

Nikki Blue in the running for permanent Phoenix Mercury head coach

"This is the place that I feel like I deserve to be a head coach."

After the Phoenix Mercury started with an abysmal 2-10 record in 2023, they parted ways with head coach Vanessa Nygaard.

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Assistant coach Nikki Blue took over in an interim role. She only led Phoenix to seven more wins and no wins on the road but a regularly-depleted roster was noticeably more inspired under her leadership.

Keeping a coach who went 7-21 would be against expectations for Mat Ishbia, as the new Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner has been all about splashy moves since taking over the teams. Under Ishbia, the Mercury made a switch at head coach 12 games into Ishbia’s tenure as owner and have hired a rising front-office talent, Nick U’Ren, away from the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.

With Ishbia’s track record as owner so far, it would be surprising to see Blue become the Mercury’s permanent head coach as opposed to a splashier hire. However, general manager Nick U’Ren confirmed her candidacy was on the table.

“No doubt, absolutely,” U’Ren said.

U’Ren said the Phoenix players have told him they liked being coached by Blue. He complimented Blue, saying she did a “great job” in difficult situations. The team was adamant in the desire for Blue’s return and U’Ren said he will use their opinions as “helpful data points” for the offseason.

Guard Diana Taurasi backed the idea of Blue coming back to coach the Mercury in 2024.

“Coach Blue would do an amazing job with a whole offseason to implement what she wants to do, what she visions this team looking like,” Taurasi said. “She would be an asset for our team or any team, really.”

Forward Brianna Turner said she would be “happy” for Blue if she was retained. Turner was confident in Blue’s ability to get the job done if the team just stayed healthy.

Guard Moriah Jefferson praised Blue for bringing the team’s energy back when she took over and pushing the players to go outside of their comfort zone. She too backed a Blue return.

Blue was appreciative of her players wanting to see her back.

“That means everything to me,” Blue said. “We were in the trenches together. We were fighting. And I’m glad that they appreciate the efforts from myself and my coaching staff. And I’m glad to hear that because there are going to be some big decisions that have to be made coming up and hopefully the people that make these decisions will see that if we have a full roster or we have players that can contribute … from my X’s and O’s and my leadership standpoint that we can do some good things.”

Blue was adamant that she had done enough to have the interim tag dropped.

“Absolutely,” Blue said. “Without a shadow of a doubt. I do believe that I’ve made the case. This is the place that I want to be. This is the place that I feel like I deserve to be a head coach.”

Written by Jesse Morrison

Jesse Morrison covers the Phoenix Mercury for The Next. A native of Roanoke, Va., Jesse moved to Arizona in 2017 to attend the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, graduating in 2021 with a degree in sports journalism. Outside of The Next, Jesse works for Arizona Sports, co-hosting an Arizona State podcast, producing a radio show and writing for their website.

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