Mercury hire 'Guru of Go'
Westhead known for fondness of fast break
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 12, 2005 12:00 AM
After going nowhere beyond the regular season for five straight years, the Mercury will pick up the pace with a coach whose name is synonymous with the fast break.
Paul Westhead, once nicknamed the Guru of Go, became the sixth coach in Mercury history Tuesday after agreeing to a two-year deal with an option for a third.
Westhead, whose well-traveled résumé includes a 1980 NBA championship as the Lakers coach, heightens the public profile for a WNBA franchise that is hoping for higher ticket sales and a quick trip back to the playoffs after a five-year absence.
"I'm not here just to take a job," said Westhead, 66, who has been an Orlando Magic assistant for the past two years. "I'm confident I can help move this team into the playoff mix and beyond."
There are inevitable questions about whether Westhead's fast-paced style will work in the WNBA. He has never coached a women's team.
"With the right players, I always think I have a chance to repeat that," said Westhead, who also coached the Denver Nuggets
and Chicago Bulls and three men's college programs. "There isn't any reason why women can't be very good at the speed game and pressure defense.
"Who knows? They may be better."
Mercury All-Star Diana Taurasi is looking forward to the opportunity.
"I think the style fits the type of players we have," said Taurasi, who is headed for Moscow and a Russian pro league in December. "It's fun to play, aggressive and fun for the fans.
"Just to have a coach like him with all the background he has, I think people are going to come in and just respect that automatically."
After leaving the Lakers 11 games into the 1981-82 season amid reports that Magic Johnson had orchestrated his ouster, Westhead regained acclaim as a college coach in Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount. His 1990 team averaged more than 122 points and fell one game short of reaching the Final Four.
A flip side to his formula, however, came the next season, 1990-91, in Denver. The Nuggets averaged 130.8 points, yet were never in the playoff hunt with a 20-62 record.
Westhead replaces Carrie Graf, whose contract was not renewed after a 16-18 finish in her second season with the team. The Mercury were one win short of qualifying for the postseason in each of Graf's two years.
The club was searching for somebody with Westhead's kind of experience. He has a reputation as a teacher.
Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver
said it was time for a change that might help the Mercury capitalize on Taurasi, who just finished her second WNBA season.
"We've got one of the best players in the league," Sarver said. "Our performance over the past couple of seasons has been unacceptable."