WNBA's Washington Mystics Hire Julie Plank as New Head CoachNew Hed, Bank and Cut

Mystics COO Greg Bibb, right, said both Julie Plank, center, and GM Angela Taylor, left, have multiyear contracts.
Mystics COO Greg Bibb, right, said both Julie Plank, center, and GM Angela Taylor, left, have multiyear contracts. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
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By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 7, 2008

The Washington Mystics named longtime WNBA assistant coach Julie Plank the 11th coach in the organization's 12-year history yesterday and said the team will shift its focus to establishing success through youth and player development.

After 24 seasons as an assistant coach in the WNBA and at Division I colleges, Plank said it was the fervent dedication that majority owner Ted Leonsis, managing partner Sheila Johnson and newly named general manager Angela Taylor expressed for building a winning team from the ground up that persuaded her to become a head coach.

"They wanted to do it the right way and were interested in building," Plank said during a news conference at Verizon Center. "I'm not afraid to do that. I love to do that, so I just felt like this was the right place. The more I knew about it and the more I heard about it, the more I felt that this was the right place to be."

None of the Mystics' first 10 coaches has held the position for more than two seasons and six left or were fired in a year or less. The carousel of coaches has often been blamed for the team's mediocre 142-220 all-time record, including only two winning seasons and just four playoff appearances (2000, '02, '04, '06).

Washington closed out this past season with a nine-game losing streak to finish 10-24. The Mystics also went through the fourth coaching change in five years when they fired Tree Rollins on July 29 and promoted Jessie Kenlaw on an interim basis. The team went 2-11 after the switch.

"I think change is hard for a lot of people, especially the players," Plank said. "When there's turnover in an organization, it's very hard to adjust. If you look around the league at the teams that have been there, they have a nucleus, whether it's of a staff that has been together or a core group of five or six players that have competed together."

By hiring Plank along with Taylor, the Mystics believe they are creating that internal group that can guide the team for years to come. Chief Operating Officer Greg Bibb said both Plank and Taylor have been signed to multiyear contracts, but declined to give any further details.

The organization made "a commitment to [Plank and Taylor] and to our fans that they're going to have the opportunity and the time to be successful," Bibb said. "We're going to put an emphasis on youth and player development. . . . I'm aware that this organization has a history of losing and I'm aware that this organization has a history of inconsistency. . . . By hiring Angela and hiring Julie we're going to address both of them. We're building for the long term."

Plank earned the 2008 WNBA assistant coach of the year award, which is chosen by league general managers, for her work in Minnesota, where she mentored Candice Wiggins and Seimone Augustus. Prior to her time with the Lynx, Plank helped build the Indiana Fever, serving as assistant coach and director of scouting from the organization's inception in 2000 through 2007.

In addition to working with young players in the WNBA, Plank has a long résumé as a college assistant, most notably her 10 years (1986-1995) at Stanford with women's basketball Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer. At Stanford, Plank and Taylor worked together while Taylor was an undergraduate from 1990 to 1993. That team won two national championships (1990 and 1992).

"I've known Julie for a long time, but I've been in this league for a long time, too," Taylor said. "Julie is someone who I always thought would be successful [as a head coach] in the right situation when she decided that was a place she wanted to be because of what she brings to the table. She is the best player developer in this league. She's going to get players better and I look forward to our players having the opportunity to spend some time with Julie and the staff that she selects."

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