Mystics Fire Rollins, Make Kenlaw Interim Coach

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Washington Mystics fired Coach Tree Rollins yesterday morning after losing their past two games by a combined 58 points and replaced him with assistant Jessie Kenlaw.

General Manager Linda Hargrove said the completely demoralizing nature of the back-to-back losses to New York (77-56) and Detroit (99-62) was the tipping point. The embarrassing losses put the playoffs farther out of reach for the Mystics (8-14), who've qualified for postseason play four times in their 11-year history.

"It probably wouldn't have happened had we lost those two games, just lost them," Hargrove said. "But the way we lost them and the way we didn't compete . . . was very much a part of the decision.

"Whenever you are going through a bad stretch sometimes you can keep everybody together on the same page and continue to work toward a common goal. I don't think I really felt the connectiveness with our team and Tree for a while. I think we won some games in spite of maybe not having a real together feeling with everybody."

Rollins took over after Richie Adubato resigned five games into the 2007 season and took the Mystics, who had lost their first eight games, to within one game of the playoffs. Before Friday's game, though, Rollins said that he was struggling to get this less experienced group to buy into his system.

Newly anointed starting point guard Nikki Blue and young backup Crystal Smith needed time to learn, Rollins said, and Nakia Sanford was struggling in her second year as a starter.

"You've got to have a good point [guard] and a good center and you build around those two positions, and right now the Washington Mystics just don't have that going for them," Rollins said. "Other teams took advantage of that."

But even when the Mystics scratched out a win, they were bedeviled by inconsistent play from one game to the next. The emotional highs created from wins against Los Angeles and Indiana deflated rapidly as soon as Washington faced adversity again, prompting claims that Rollins didn't do enough to stabilize the team.

"The thing I can hang my hat on is I didn't lay down on the job," Rollins said. "I know what it takes to prepare a squad to go out and play and compete. But I'm not a psychiatrist. I can't get into a player's head. I can't hit those switches to activate the heart and the will for them so that they do the job they agreed to do."

The firing of Rollins (23-24) is the third coaching change in Hargrove's three-year tenure as general manager. Assistant coach Crystal Robinson will stay on with Kenlaw, who will make her professional head coaching debut at 4 p.m. today when the Mystics host Seattle, the second-place team in the Western Conference.

Hargrove believes Kenlaw can bring new motivation and discipline to the foundering Mystics. The most noticeable difference during Kenlaw's first practice yesterday was her in-your-face style; Rollins was typically more mellow.

While she didn't compare the styles of either coach, guard Alana Beard said she thought "everyone refocused. I really got into what Jessie and Crystal were giving us." Beard, who has scored more than 10 points just once in the past five games, said she understands that she'll be expected to help bridge the gap between head coaches once again, a task with which she's familiar.

"This is my fourth coach in five seasons. This is nothing new," Beard said. "As a leader we have to step up, we have to help Jessie and help Crystal. We can't expect them to do everything for us. . . . We can't come out here and have another exhibition like we had the previous two games."

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