It Was Destined: Noelle Quinn Is Ready To Lead the Storm to Greatness

SLAM has partnered with the Black Coaches Association on a content series that will spotlight Black coaches from every level. Here’s an exclusive feature story on Noelle Quinn, who is on the Board of Directors for the BCA.

‘Destiny’ is a word that is used so often, but do we truly grasp what it means? Destiny is believed to be the hidden power that controls what will happen in the future, linear to fate. Yet, the tricky thing about one’s destiny is that most times, it’s out of our control and comes with a series of events that we fail to see coming—but for some strange reason, we’re prepared for it. 

Following the abrupt, bittersweet announcement that the Seattle Storms’ former head coach, Dan Hughes, was retiring after 40 years of coaching, assistant coach Noelle Quinn had no idea that the torch would be passed down so soon—and that she would be the one to lead the Storm for the remainder of the 2021 season.

“Honestly, if you think about the journey for me, I just finished playing in 2018 and within that time, there was some discussion—coming back and coaching and eventually the destination being that, but you know we’re in 2021, just a few years later, and again that was something that I didn’t really imagine happening so fast,” Quinn says humbly on a zoom call. 

“Obviously it’s important to have goals, dreams, and aspirations but I didn’t go into anything like ‘one day I’m going to be the head coach.’ It was me going into my assignment and wanting to dive in and how can I be better, how can I be great in my role, and just learning in that manner and within that.” 

After six years in the W, Quinn suited up in yellow and green and joined forces with the Storm in 2013, solidifying a leadership role by building trust that would foreshadow an easy transition from teammate to coach in years to come. 

There have been many coaches who have turned from being a player to head honcho, but coaching your former team is another thing. For Quinn, who is currently the only former player in the WNBA to be actively coaching the same team she played for, this has been a strong advantage as she’s stepped into her new role. 

This LA native knows first hand what it was like to go through the fire with her former teammates.

“I like to joke about it, it’s like I’m coaching my homies,” Quinn says lightheartedly. “I think the biggest word that comes from that is trust. They trust me to get them to where they need to be. I trust they will give us what we would need every day—their attention, their focus, their passionate dedication and to have that respect level was garnered because I was their teammate.”

With that, stepping into a coaching position with strong leaders and legends, such as Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd to name a few, can be a tough transition, but luckily for Quinn, she’s the type of leader that earned her respect just by being who she is and having a heart for those on her team throughout the years. 

“Being in a locker room with someone and going to war with someone, every single day you, you just create this really this intrinsic value for this care for one another and it’s something very special that can’t be duplicated or replicated, if you haven’t been through it,” Quinn says.

“They know where my heart is,  they know where my mind is and, in turn, I’m able to lead them because that trust is there and that history between us is there.”

If there was one word to describe Noelle, or ‘Noey’ as her team and loved ones refer to her as, it would be humble. Through all of her hard work and dedication to the Storm, it seems she was the only one who didn’t see this amazing opportunity coming her way. Those around her knew that this day would come.

Assistant coach Ryan Webb recalls sitting on the bench with Noey, back when she was still hoopin’, and seeing her coach others:

“We would sit on the sidelines and be talking the game. She was already coaching,” Webb says over Zoom. “She was already being a leader in the locker room, players were already gravitating to her like ‘yo, I need to get my mind right, I need to go talk to Noey.’”

 “That started real early on, and so I was seeing this growth. I think that speaks to our team and what our team will expect out of us and I’m just ready to lift her up and let her go on this journey and be there where I can support and make her feel, you know, take into consideration the position that she’s in, not just as coach, but as a Black woman in this League so I was really excited.”

In a League that made up of 80% persons of Color, Quinn stands in good company with three other Black coaches in the W: James Wade (Chicago Sky), Vickie Johnson (Dallas Wings), and Derek Fisher (LA Sparks). Over the years, there has not only been a lack of Black coaches but Black female coaches in the League as well. For Quinn to rise up and takeover a winning team is a huge win.

“Representation is key,” says Quinn, who is also on the Board of Directors for the Black Coaches Association. “I grew up watching the WNBA and the fact that I can look at a professional event and see someone who looks like me, that does something for me.” 

“To see a Black woman, young Black girls, we’ll just keep it specific—to see me in this leadership role there is a responsibility for me to carry that. And to have honor in that because I am going to one day pass the torch to somebody else. And so it’s important that they see that hey, you can do it and you can be awesome in it as well.”

According to Quinn, being a Black woman comes off as a “double negative” considering the racism and sexism from all facets of life that are presented to this group. She knows the pressures of being a Black woman in this industry all-too-well but has no problem combating it.

“There’s no room for failure, but I embrace it because I understand the value of holding a position like this as a black woman and is it fair? No. But life isn’t fair,” Quinn says. “If I were to dwell on that, then I wouldn’t be focusing on the impact that I can make, not only in my space but in our organization,  in our city,  [and] in our world—for someone to see someone like me sitting in this position and leading in the way that I do and I don’t take it lightly because I understand that it is hard, but at the end of the day, I’m making room for someone else who looks like me and making it a little bit easier and palatable for people to pick someone that looks like me in positions of power.”

Quinn understands that she has to be twice as good in the industry, but she’s used that to the betterment of her craft as she strives for excellence. As the Storm sit in the second spot in the Western Conference with a 8-2 record, Quinn’s main goal for Seattle is to continue to exceed the level they’ve always played at.

“We are so used to playing at a high level and clicking immediately,” Quinn says. “So now the challenge is getting everybody to that level and exceeding with the new pieces that we have in a short amount of time and finding chemistry.”

And as she continues to come up for air after the stadium standing ovations and hundreds of text messages of love from her supporters, those who know her best expecting nothing less from her. Even if doubt lingers, and she’s unsure of herself, she’s reminded that she was destined for this.

“People continue to see things within me that I don’t see within myself sometimes,” Quinn says. “With this situation, I was like, I don’t feel quite comfortable. I don’t feel quite prepared, but people are like, You are, and step into that! And so when I hear that and I receive that confidence then it’s like, Alright if you’re telling me I can do it, I trust y’all. Let’s roll, let’s get it done.”

To learn more about the past and present of the BCA, and to register as a member of the BCA, click here.