November 18, 2021
Washington Mystics ink Mike Thibault and staff to contract extensions
Thibault has coached in the WNBA for 19 seasons, including nine in DC—and he's back for more
The winningest coach in WNBA history isn’t going anywhere.
On Wednesday, the Washington Mystics announced that head coach and general manager Mike Thibault had signed a multi-year contract extension. His top assistants—associate head coach Eric Thibault, assistant coach LaToya Sanders and assistant general manager Maria Giovannetti—were also extended.
The extensions were part of a flurry of moves by Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Mystics and the NBA’s Washington Wizards. Notably, Thibault will now report to Sashi Brown, who was promoted to president of Monumental Basketball and special advisor to the Office of the CEO. Brown also will join Mystics president Sheila Johnson at the WNBA’s governing board meetings.
“After our last two years with the pandemic and injuries, I am looking forward to getting back to a full, healthy team,” Mike Thibault said in the team’s announcement. “I am excited for the offseason and what we can do to reset our team.”
Thibault enters his tenth season with the Mystics and his 20th in the WNBA in 2022. He was hired in DC in December 2012, on the heels of two seasons in which the Mystics had a combined 11-57 record. He promptly won 17 games in his first season, earning WNBA Coach of the Year honors for the third time in his career.
The Mystics made the playoffs that season, starting a streak of seven playoff appearances in eight seasons that ended in 2021. From 2017-19, the Mystics made the WNBA semifinals in three straight seasons, winning the franchise’s first championship in 2019.
The rest of the WNBA has noticed as Thibault has taken the Mystics to new heights. He was voted the best overall head coach in the past two preseason surveys of general managers, and he has received votes in every survey since 2015 (the earliest year I could find).
Established stars such as Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles have frequently talked about buying into Thibault’s vision for the team and wanting to play for him, and younger players such as Ariel Atkins and Sydney Wiese also spoke glowingly about his coaching abilities this season.
“If you do something good, he holds on to that, versus if you do something bad, he doesn’t hold on to that,” said Atkins, who has played for Thibault ever since he drafted her in 2018. “He’s always on to the next thing, and that’s super helpful as a young player because you know that, okay, I can mess up, but at the end of the day it’s all about the next play … So that’s something that I love having in a coach and I’m grateful to be coached by him.”
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Wiese joined the Mystics via trade in 2021, and just days into her Mystics tenure, she gushed about her new coach, calling him “a legend.” She added, “He knows exactly what his vision is as a coach and how to execute that, and I appreciate how transparent he is in practices and even off the court … Coach T, and the whole staff, they are always willing to help answer questions and they’re always trying to outsmart the opponent, and I love that. I love being able to scheme, to use our IQs to try and throw the rhythm off of the other team, and he is a master at that, so I’m looking forward to learning even more from him.”
As a general manager, Thibault is known for his prowess in the draft. He surprised many by drafting Atkins seventh overall in 2018, but she was an impact player right away, started on the 2019 championship team and has been named to the WNBA All-Defensive Team in each of her four seasons. He also drafted Kahleah Copper, who won WNBA Finals MVP this season with the Chicago Sky, in the same spot in 2016.
Second-round picks are often in jeopardy of being cut, but Thibault has gotten excellent value out of those picks, too, including with future WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meesseman, current starting point guard and team leader Natasha Cloud and 2020 All-WNBA selection Myisha Hines-Allen.
After a 2021 draft in which Thibault didn’t have a single pick, he is slated to have a lottery pick in 2022. That could be an opportunity to leverage his scouting ability—or an important trade chip. Thibault has never been afraid to make bold moves, acquiring Delle Donne and Charles via trade in 2017 and 2020, respectively. In 2018, he also engineered one of the more lopsided trades in recent memory, flipping guard Tayler Hill and a second-round draft pick to Dallas for guard Aerial Powers. Powers was critical to the Mystics winning a championship in 2019, while Hill played in just four games that season and is now out of the league.
The timing of Thibault and his staff’s extensions—about six weeks before free agency begins on Jan. 1—sets the Mystics up well for what should be a busy offseason. Just six players are currently signed for 2022, and Thibault has voiced a desire to hit the “reset button” after going 12-20 last season.
Some observers had speculated that 2021 might be the swan song for the 71-year-old Thibault, whose season ended prematurely when he contracted COVID-19 in September. But he told reporters after the season that he was still all-in, often waking up “at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning with thoughts about what we need to fix.” Now, Thibault is officially re-signed in DC, ready to chase even more wins and another WNBA championship.
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.