The two Minnesota pro basketball franchise players of the Minnesota Lynx and Minnesota Timberwolves, Seimone Augustus and Kevin Garnett, now have something more in common. Besides being their respective club’s marquee players, both have seen a coaching change during their rookie seasons.
The Timberwolves fired Bill Blair and hired Flip Saunders in late December 1995, almost a third into Garnett’s first NBA season. It has taken 23 games, over half of her first WNBA 32-game slate, before Augustus finds herself playing for her second coach in one season.
In their first home game since head coach Suzie McConnell Serio walked into Roger Griffith’s office July 23 and resigned, the Lynx will be coached by Carolyn Jenkins, the first black head coach in franchise history and only the second-ever black female coach in the league.
Currently in last place in the Western Conference, the Lynx have been struggling all season, especially on defense — Minnesota is next to last in the league in points allowed. The team gave up an average of 82 points in two losses last week against Houston and Sacramento. After an 86-59 loss to the visiting Monarchs Saturday, frustration and confusion ran amuck in the Lynx locker room.
“I don’t think we have roles,” lamented forward Adrian Williams afterwards. “We don’t know what each other is going to do on any given night.”
The team was playing like “dead women walking” as the Lynx sank deeper and deeper into the Western Conference cellar. It also appeared that the players began to turn off McConnell Serio, who kept expecting them to bring what was worked on at practice with them to game night.
While it wasn’t expected, McConnell Serio’s decision to walk away with almost three weeks remaining “was not a total surprise,” admits Griffith, the Lynx’s chief operating officer. “You try to prepare for it just in case it might happen someday.”
Along with McConnell Serio, first-year assistant coach Susan Yow also resigned Sunday, a double whammy that caught everyone off guard. “I came into work normally to prepare for practice and got the call from Roger and was told to be ready,” Jenkins, a fourth-year assistant coach, says. “There was surprise and shock [among the players], but also there was a sense that something was going to change and rally together as a team.”
Basically, what McConnell Serio, Minnesota’s winningest coach (58-67), did was a preemptive strike: Get out before they get you.
With 10 games remaining, everyone in Lynxland is hoping that the team can turn things around, but in reality it’s easier to wish on a star in a Disney movie. “[The coaching change] can be a good jump start,” believes Griffith.
Exit Suzie, enter the C.J. era? “I don’t know if I would call it the C.J. era,” countered Jenkins. “This is still the Minnesota Lynx. The biggest thing for me is putting them in position to be successful. I do want our players to get better defensively,” notes Jenkins.
“C.J. is a hard-working coach,” says Lynx forward Svetlana Abrosimova. “I personally feel very comfortable with her, and I know everybody on the team has a good feeling for her.”
Jenkins now is faced with a two-pronged opportunity: If she turns things around, Griffith has no choice but to give her the job outright. And if she doesn’t, oh well, Jenkins becomes just another Black coach in a no-win situation, a one-and-done chance and a historical footnote in the team annals.
When asked if he would hire Jenkins as permanent head coach at season’s end or will continue the present practice around the WNBA to hire former NBA coaches or players, Griffith says, “She knows that this is an interim basis until the end of the season. We will conduct a search after the season and figure out who the best person is that we think is there to lead the team in the future. Carolyn can be considered part of that process.”
But according to Griffith, Jenkins can be Stevie Wonder and not worry about a thing — she is a valuable member of the organization. “We value Carolyn’s contributions and that she is part of the staff,” he says.
“I have a great sense of loyalty to the Minnesota Lynx, the Timberwolves organization, Roger and [owner] Glen Taylor,” concludes Jenkins. “They hired me and treated me well. At the end of the season, we will evaluate where we are and what is the best role for me, and then go from there.”