Thibault Did Almost Everything For Sun

But He Has No Trophy As He Walks Out The Door

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He didn't do what Van Chancellor did four times. He didn't do what Bill Laimbeer did three times, Michael Cooper did twice or seven others did once.

"Mike Thibault has done everything we asked him," Sun CEO Mitchell Etess said, "except win a WNBA championship."

After a full decade, that's why the Sun fired Thibault Tuesday. He didn't win it all.

"And they write the checks," Thibault said.

There's no argument on that point. Yet it is on the line of those checks, where it says "Memo," where we find the argument over Thibault's dismissal.

The coach would fill it in this way: Team gave up too quickly during rebuilding process.

Etess and general manager Chris Sienko would fill in: Hasn't won in 10 years and don't see how the 11th will be different.

They are two arguments, in fact, and they both are right.

If you want to argue that the Sun, as Thibault put it, "gutted the roster" early in 2010 and started over with Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery and Kara Lawson, you will subscribe to the notion the Sun got too itchy with their trigger finger in Year 3 of reconstruction. You will argue they should have at least picked up the option on the final year of Thibault's deal and allowed him one more run with a team capable of winning its first WNBA title.

Yet it you choose to believe that Thibault already had 10 kicks at the can and the Sun, who went to the Finals in 2005 and 2006, would be foolish to risk allowing a second window of championship opportunity to close without that title, then you, like Etess and Sienko, had seen enough.

"It has been 10 years, a long run," Etess said. "Chris and I spent an awful lot of time going through this. We didn't know why it would be different." If the definition of insanity, as Einstein suggested, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, one can understand their reasoning.

"I understand both arguments," Thibault said. "It's like a lawyer going into a courtroom, depending on what side you're on is how you want facts and statistics to look.

"They can say they didn't feel as if there was hope, but we entered the season with the second-youngest team in the league, ended up with the second-best record in the league, won a playoff series and lost a tough one to the champions [Indiana]."

Thibault is a good man and a top-shelf WNBA coach. You don't walk away from a conversation with him without being a little smarter about the game. Although not known by many folks in the women's game, including the Sun hierarchy, he came recommended in 2003 by no less than Jerry West and Jeff Van Gundy. Through the minor leagues, scouting, NBA assistant etc., Thibault, 62, is a basketball lifer. And as the longest tenured WNBA coach, he became as permanent a fixture at the Mohegan Sun Arena as the slot machines and blackjack tables in the adjacent casino. Only Dan Hughes has coached more WNBA games. Only Chancellor won more — and Thibault was within five W's. His teams have had the best regular season record, been to the conference finals five times. He twice has been named coach of the year. Had a huge hand in building the personnel. Done everything except …

Thibault never hit the triple bar. Never turned over a 21.

Never hit the jackpot.

"There does seem to be some intangible that has come into effect in the playoffs and we haven't been able to overcome that intangible," Etess said.

"I think we've been a model of excellence except one thing on the resume," said Thibault, who eschewed a chance to return to the NBA last summer and doesn't know what he'll do next. "And the one thing on the resume they wanted I didn't give it to them."

Of the 136 current coaches in the four men's major sports leagues and the WNBA, only seven have a longer tenure than Thibault. The Patriots' Bill Belichick, Spurs' Gregg Popovich and Angels' Mike Scioscia have won titles. The Sabres' Lindy Ruff, Predators' Barry Trotz, Twins' Ron Gardenhire and Eagles' Andy Reid have not. Reid's job also hangs by a thread.

Thibault introduced the name of ex-Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. A coach who lasted 23 seasons without winning an NBA title also is the rarest of coaching birds.

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