December 6, 2021 

Sandy Brondello, Mercury mutually agree to part ways

Phoenix's winningest coach will not return after making Finals run in 2021

After eight seasons leading the Phoenix Mercury, Sandy Brondello will not return for the 2022 season, the team announced late Monday afternoon.

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Brondello’s contract expired after the 2021 season and, with less than a month until the 2022 offseason begins on Jan. 1 — and on a day where another WNBA team announced a head coaching change, the team’s announcement states that they and Brondello have “mutually agreed to part ways.”

The move comes just seven weeks after Brondello’s Mercury team made the WNBA Finals for the second time in her tenure. And though they fell to the Chicago Sky in four games; there was a sense of gratitude about the way this team was constructed even after the loss.

While there was bound to be some changes to the personnel ahead of 2022, obviously there will be a change in the leadership. Brondello was held in high regard by her players in Phoenix and had especially grown close this past season with Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Diggins-Smith, who sent out a cryptic tweet earlier Monday, frequently credited Brondello throughout the season with developing her game, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The left-handed guard was named to the All-WNBA First Team this season.

Brondello remains the coach of the Australian national team, and the Opals recently named their roster for the 2022 World Cup, which is being hosted in Australia. Still, it’s a sudden end to the tenure of the winningest and longest-tenured coach in Mercury franchise history.

After being hired as Mercury general manager Jim Pitman’s first move in late 2013, Brondello led the Mercury to a WNBA championship in her first season, going 29-5 in the regular season and only dropping a single playoff game en route to sweeping Chicago in the Finals.

Brondello has had the Mercury making the playoffs every season in charge, but since 2016, they’ve always ended up between the fifth and eighth seed, spending six consecutive seasons having to win single-elimination games just to make a WNBA playoff series.

But perhaps as a sign of Brondello’s well-earned reputation for being a strong strategist, the Mercury dominated those games, unlike any other team, winning nine single-elimination games the WNBA had in the six years of the single-elimination format (which was done away with for 2022). It’s more than triple the amount of single-elimination games that any other franchise won during the six years.

And while the Mercury reached the WNBA semifinals from the first round four times in six years, this year was the only time they broke through to the WNBA Finals. But in this matchup with the Sky, Phoenix lost the Finals in four games.

There was some thought that Brondello may be coaching for her job during the 2021 season, particularly when the Mercury were 7-9 at the halfway point of the year. But a pool party at her recently-purchased house near the Biltmore area of Phoenix seemed to save the season and sparked the run all the way to the Finals.

The Mercury still have their three main superstars — Diggins-Smith, Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi — under contract for the 2022 season. But Taurasi’s final comments of the 2021 season opened the door for speculation on whether she’d return or not.

Taurasi’s status was the largest unknown for the Mercury heading into an offseason filled with a lot of interesting and complex decisions. Now, they’ve added one more mightily important one — if not the most important one — to answer during the offseason.  

Written by Alex Simon

SF Bay Area native, 2x grad (Elon, ASU), adjunct professor at ASU's Cronkite School, editor & journalist always looking to tell unique stories.

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