Hughes’ Move to GM Shows Character
Selfless decision keeps organizational structure intact.
by Ben York
Just a few months ago, the WNBA announced that only one assistant coach would be allowed on the sidelines for the 2010 season. Hence, over 12 men and women could be out of a job very soon. For some organizations, this move will have more dramatic implications than others. But for former Silver Stars head coach Dan Hughes, it was a chance to keep the family together.
Sandy Brondello has been Hughes’ lead assistant for five years. Prior to that, she spent five seasons as a player in the WNBA, played for the Australian National Team for 18 years, and spent a decade in the Women’s National Basketball League. She, along with her husband Olaf Lange, have been key members of Hughes’ coaching staff for the past several seasons. Lange’s role on the team has mainly consisted of player improvement and scouting but now that Hughes has decided to become a full-time GM and with the appointment of Brondello as head coach, Lange now assumes the role of associate head coach under his wife.
At first glance, the announcement may seem uneventful. Sure, the move ensures that Hughes’ coaching staff remains together and seems to be a positive change for the Silver Stars organization. But diving deeper into the changes, perhaps what is being disregarded the most is the selflessness in Hughes’ decision.
There is little doubt that Hughes could remain head coach of the Silver Stars for many years; he is still fully capable of coaching a team, and coaching it well. In fact, he’s the only coach in WNBA history to lead three different franchises to the playoffs and has the third most wins of any coach. In addition, Hughes is also the all-time winningest coach in Silver Star history. He is well-liked by players and known for his ability to turn franchises around. Thus, there is no doubt Hughes could lead the Silver Stars to the playoffs for years to come, even in a difficult Western Conference.
But with the announcement from the league that only one assistant coach would be allowed per team, Hughes demonstrated impeccable character in assuming full-time GM duties. With his ascension to the front office, this would allow Sandy Brondello and Olaf Lange to remain together as husband and wife on the sidelines.
“The overriding thing is the love I have for my staff,” Hughes said in a call with SLAMonline. “The most pleasing part to me is giving Sandy an opportunity to grow. I have great confidence in Sandy and have seen her growth over the past five years. It has been vivid and vibrant.”
Faced with having to determine which of his two assistant coaches would remain with him on the sidelines is no easy task. Still, it certainly wouldn’t have been surprising if Hughes continued to remain both the head coach and GM, while either Brondello or Lange was left out to dry. Instead, he did the honorable thing by letting Brondello have the chance and opportunity to be successful along with her husband. This type of graciousness should not be overlooked, especially in a professional sports world where success is typically highly individualized. With the amount of confidence and faith Hughes has in Brondello, the timing was perfect.
Through it all, Hughes has remained modest about his decision.
“There is a uniqueness to Sandy that the players love,” said Hughes. “The decision [to step down as head coach] was more of an act of competence. Nobody really had the foresight to see this coming. We couldn’t plan for it. But Sandy has grown so much over the past five years and gotten better every year.”
For Brondello, the move to head coach is both exciting and fulfilling. She has a great relationship with the front office as well as the players. She and Lange work extremely well together and are known for bringing out the best in people. With the title change, Brondello now looks to lead the Silver Stars back into the playoffs.
“Dan [Hughes] is a great leader,” Brondello said. “He’ll still be heavily involved in what we are doing but I’m ready to step up and make sure this team is still competitive.”
The trio (Hughes, Brondello, and Lange) that has worked so well together will still remain alive and well in spite of the changes in titles. Their working relationship has been nothing but smooth as evidenced by their 2008 trip to the WNBA Finals. Each person brings a different approach to the table which Hughes was (and still is) particularly thankful for.
“The three of us work well together,” Hughes said. “It’s the most rewarding group I’ve ever been a part of in my coaching career. We compliment each other very well.”
With Brondello taking over, much of the traditional Silver Stars style will remain the same. They’ll still rely on a phenomenal inside-out game and defense will be a major emphasis. Becky Hammon and Sophia Young are still the centerpieces of the team. The next step is enhancing the rest of the squad in an ever-competitive Western Conference. The Silver Stars lost a bit of their depth with the retirement of Vickie Johnson and Erin Perperoglou but is already making steps to right the ship.
“The addition of Roneeka Hodges, which wasn’t talked about much, will be great for us,” said Hughes. “And it was driven by Sandy. We are still not done in the post position and we have to get better in terms of rebounding and transition. Sandy will have a unique style, but the base is pretty much the same. We’ve had enough success and enough staples in our core that we just need to blend the right elements together. If we go with all young players, that would be a mistake. If we went with all veterans then it wouldn’t blend properly. We also have to draft well.”
“I think we need to get players that compliment our core,” Brondello said of offseason additions. “Roneeka [Hodges] was a nice pick-up and we need to surround Becky [Hammon] with shooters. It gets a bit creative with the reduction in the salary cap, but we still need to make sure we have the right pieces on the team. We need to take some pressure off of Becky and Sophia [Young]. The league consists of the best of the best, and we just need to make sure we find players who are the right fit.”
Silver Stars fans can certainly rest easy knowing their team remains in good hands. Hughes will still be actively involved as an advisor to Brondello and will surely assist whenever needed. At the end of the day, the move from head coach to GM was a basketball decision for Hughes. Still, one cannot overlook the fact that few people would’ve done the same thing.
Doing so, we get to see first-hand that character and integrity still exist in professional sports.