With Doc Rivers out as coach of the Sixers, allow me to again make the case for Dawn Staley.
It’s no secret that I’m a Staley fan; anybody who’s followed me on Twitter in the last year may better recognize me by my previous handle, “Jawn Staley,” an online homage. But even objectively speaking, Staley — whose name was floated for the job three years ago before Rivers was hired — has only become more qualified for the role, whether she wants it or not.
Unobjectively speaking, Staley is just a joy to root for. On the floor, she’s a confident, passionate badass. Her hair is laid. Her outfits are nothing but drip. She pushes her players on and off the court, cheering for them just as loudly at games as she does at the WNBA Draft or their graduation ceremonies. And she reps Philly so hard, no matter where she is — remember when she coached her team wearing an Eagles jersey on their road to the Super Bowl? Iconic.
Dawn Staley rockin’ the Randall Cunningham Eagles jersey 🦅 pic.twitter.com/KHwLh6xj1p
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 12, 2023
There has still never been a woman head coach in the NBA. Commissioner Adam Silver said in December that he’d like to see the first hired within the next five years.
Fine. We know she’s already said she doesn’t want the job. But is that really the point? Staley is one of the most decorated and accomplished athletes in sports and the perfect combination of heart, talent and swag this team and the league could use right now. (Inquirer columnist Mike Jensen chimed in today with a similar thought.)
Staley has coached the University of South Carolina Lady Gamecocks since 2008. Under her leadership, the Gamecocks have won two national championships and were undefeated during the regular season this year before falling short of a third title in the Final Four.
Staley has done all this with the style that has become synonymous with the Joel Embiid-James Harden era. Again, her fashion and hair game — which is a thing in the NBA and therefore okay for me to mention in reference to a woman! — are already far superior to any of the current coaches and frankly rival some of the players’ game day sartorial choices. And while the Sixers’ starters have charmed the city, it’s Staley who could be the team’s soul. In her role, she has helped to grow interest in the game for women, and for Black women in particular. As someone who has been outspoken on issues of gender and race, she’d also immediately be one of the leading coaching voices in a profession with a void.
And nobody has more of a heart for the city or the team than Staley, she of Dobbins Mustangs fame from Diamond Avenue and 25th Street. North Philly is part of what makes her a great coach. Her greatest appeal is the force of her personality. Coaching toughness is a skill; Staley has it and could wield it just as effectively with men as she does women. She has a track record for bringing out the best in young players, from Temple to the Olympic Games. And for anyone wondering whether Staley would fight for them, consider that she made a video calling for the return of Brittney Griner nearly every day of her nearly 10-month detention in a Russian prison.
So why not Staley?
This season, she made some of her strongest statements about preferring to stay in the women’s game. And in 2021, South Carolina gave her a seven-year, $22.4 million contract extension — making her the highest paid Black coach in women’s basketball and among the highest paid in the country.
An opportunity that has the makings of a fairytale moment for her career could also be a Dreams and Nightmares scenario. The stakes and expectations will be different and high for whomever the first woman NBA head coach is. But they should also be high for the league. It wouldn’t be enough for the Sixers to just kick the tires; Staley is an exceptional candidate worthy of serious interest that might actually make her seriously reconsider her position.
For now, she likely still doesn’t want the job, but that doesn’t mean the team or the league shouldn’t want her — or someone like her. Maybe the next step in The Process could be for Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey to pick up the phone and make a call to Columbia? Asking for a city.
Errin Haines is editor at large for The 19th and a citizen of North Philadelphia.
PHILLY SPORTS COVERAGE FROM THE CITIZENDawn Staley, on the sidelines of a University of South Carolina basketball game. Photo by Chris Gillespie for Gamecock Central, via Flickr.