Mystics Fire Hargrove, Search for New Direction

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Washington Mystics fired General Manager Linda Hargrove yesterday, a week after the team ended another mediocre season in her four-year tenure at the helm of the organization.

With Hargrove as general manager, the Mystics have had one winning season (2006) and one playoff berth (2006), cycled through three coaches and have lacked a team identity while compiling a 60-78 record, including 0-2 in the playoffs. Washington finished 10-24 in 2008, ending the year with a nine-game losing streak that clinched the franchise's worst season in five years.

"In our business you're either moving forward or moving backward," Chief Operating Officer Greg Bibb said. "And we weren't moving forward. So the decision was made to go in a different direction."

Speculation about Hargrove's future with the organization began midseason when the Mystics fired Tree Rollins as coach and promoted Jessie Kenlaw to an interim position. It escalated in August when Sheila Johnson, the Mystics' president and managing partner, demanded that the team improve drastically.

"We cannot continue on this path," Johnson told reporters during the rare question-and-answer session. "The Mystics have not moved one ounce in their 11-year history, and we've got to start making some changes. It is the only way this team is going to survive." Through a team official, Johnson declined to comment on Hargrove's dismissal.

Despite her blistering assessment of the Mystics' "lack of talent" and need for a "long-term plan," Johnson stood behind Hargrove when asked specifically about the general manager in August, stating that Hargrove has "done a wonderful job."

Hargrove has been the most consistent presence on the basketball operations side of the organization over the past six years. She served as a scout during her first season with the Mystics, then was an assistant coach in her second before being named general manager in February 2005.

But the Mystics' coaching carousel and inability to improve upon their fourth- or fifth-place spot in the Eastern Conference standings exemplified the team's lack of direction. Players that one coach believed were crucial to becoming a winning franchise weren't always vital to the next coach's vision, leaving the team with a muddled picture of the future and a hodge-podge of players that might help them get there.

One of Washington's primary problems last season was the lack of an experienced point guard, a deficiency that made Hargrove a lightning rod for criticism from fans. The Mystics had released their previous starting point guard during the offseason, then failed to acquire one through free agency, trade or the draft. Both coaches this season brought up the inexperience and fluctuations at point guard almost daily as a main cause of the team's troubles.

Before joining the Mystics, Hargrove was general manager and coach of the Portland Fire, a WNBA expansion team that existed from 2000 to 2002, had a 37-59 record and failed to make the playoffs in all three seasons.

In September, Hargrove said part of the reason the Mystics have habitually missed the playoffs is because they simply haven't been bad enough to acquire players that could fundamentally alter the team.

"You need consecutive first [overall] or perhaps first and second picks in the draft to see any drastic improvement," said Hargrove, who didn't respond to e-mails seeking comment for this story.

Bibb said the team has not yet begun a formal search for a new general manager but that several candidates have already contacted the team about the position. There also have not been any decisions made regarding the team's head coaching job, Bibb said, adding that Kenlaw will be considered along with other applicants.

"I think the unfortunate thing for the fans is that they only see the result on the basketball court," Bibb said. "Linda's got a good basketball mind and sometimes circumstances dictate the direction you must take with a team. At the end of the day, we finished 10-24, which simply isn't good enough."

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