October 16, 2023 

Phoenix Mercury set to hire Orlando Magic assistant coach Nate Tibbetts as head coach

Tibbetts is expected to become highest-paid head coach in WNBA history

On Monday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Nate Tibbetts, an assistant coach for the Orlando Magic, will become the new head coach of the Phoenix Mercury.

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Tibbetts’ contract is still being finalized, but he is set to become the highest-paid coach in the history of the WNBA, according to Wojnarowski. His earnings will surpass those of Becky Hammon, the head coach of the Las Vegas Aces, who currently earns over $1 million annually.

Tibbetts has been an assistant coach in the NBA for 12 seasons and also has experience as a head and assistant coach in the NBA G-League. He has no experience coaching women’s basketball. (However, his father Fred coached women’s basketball at the high school and college levels and was inducted into the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.)

Tibbetts is the second head coaching hire of this WNBA offseason. On Oct. 10, Shams Charania of The Athletic was first to report that the Chicago Sky would hire WNBA legend Teresa Weatherspoon to fill their head coaching vacancy.

Hiring Tibbetts is only one of several recent changes for the Mercury. Owner Mat Ishbia, who took over in February, hired Golden State Warriors senior basketball executive Nick U’Ren as general manager to replace Jim Pitman, who retired after 10 seasons. In addition, Ishbia announced plans to invest $100 million in a new headquarters for the Mercury and the NBA’s Phoenix Suns in downtown Phoenix. As part of this investment, he intends to build a practice facility specifically for the Mercury, which should be ready by spring 2024.

“We are working every day to make the Phoenix Suns and Mercury a world-class organization on and off the floor,” Ishbia said in a press release. “You create great culture by investing in people. A basketball franchise is so much more than a normal business, it is a catalyst for change. I am so excited to be making an investment that builds on our vision for the Phoenix Suns and Mercury to continue investing in our players, team members, fans, and community.”

The Phoenix Mercury will host the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game at the Footprint Center. This will be the third time hosting in franchise history and the first time since 2014.

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Tibbetts’ hire also comes at a tumultuous time for Phoenix on the court. Two seasons ago, the Mercury reached the WNBA Finals but lost to the Chicago Sky in four games. They then parted ways with longtime head coach Sandy Brondello, who is now the head coach for the New York Liberty.

Last season, the Mercury finished with the worst record in the league at 9-31 and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Head coach Vanessa Nygaard was fired after a 2-10 start, and assistant coach Nikki Blue was elevated to interim head coach. She was under consideration for the permanent job but lost out to Tibbetts.

However, the future could be a little brighter for Phoenix. The Mercury’s record over the past two seasons is 24-52, giving them the second-best lottery odds in the 2024 WNBA Draft. This draft class is expected to be stacked with talented players, potentially including guards Caitlin Clark of the Iowa Hawkeyes and Paige Bueckers from the UConn Huskies.

In addition, Mercury center Brittney Griner, an unrestricted free agent, has expressed plans to return to Phoenix in 2024. Legendary guard Diana Taurasi, who became the first player in WNBA history to score 10,000 career points this season, will also return, and the team has over $630,000 to spend in free agency.

Written by Aya Abdeen

Aya Abdeen is a student in sports journalism at Arizona State University and has been a contributing writer for The Next since December 2022. She is also a sports reporter for the Sun Devils’ women’s basketball team for The State Press. Her work has also appeared on AZPreps365.


  1. RM Williams on October 17, 2023 at 5:54 am

    “He has no experience coaching women’s basketball. (However, his father Fred coached women’s basketball at the high school and college levels and was inducted into the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.)”

    I suppose if dad coached high school and college, it just stands to reason that son Nate can handle the WNBA. This on the heels of Teresa Weatherspoon, a seasoned and highly decorated WNBA and international player, being hired as the next Chicago Sky coach.
    I wonder how many candidates were considered, and how many women, other than Nikki Blue, were seriously considered for the Mercury job? I also wonder how many women are seriously considered for NBA jobs? If I guess none, I might be right. Remember the debacle in New York with Walt Hopkins? James Wade leaving during the season to become an assistant in Toronto? Now, look where Las Vegas is with Becky Hammon, Atlanta with Tanisha Wright, Dallas with Latricia Trammell, COTY Stephanie White with Connecticut, Cheryl Reeve in Minnesota and so forth. Not bad, eh? Of course there is the poster child for nepotism, Eric Thibault, but hey, so it goes, right?
    I don’t wish Nate Tibbetts any ill. But the stated fact that he has zero experience coaching a woman’s team at any level should have been enough of a red flag to keep looking. But who knows? Maybe Tibbetts is a real pied piper and will lead the Mercury upward and onward. Anyone buying that? I didn’t think so.

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