'Family man' Whisenant was ready to step away

Updated: October 25, 2006, 10:43 PM ET
By Nancy Lieberman | Special to ESPN.com

Though he'll continue his role as Sacramento's general manager, the WNBA will miss John Whisenant as a head coach. He upped the stakes in this league. Not only did he make Sacramento the best team in the West, he coached with class and always handled himself well, no matter the situation. His players adore him, he is a gifted coach and Monarchs assistants Tom Abatemarco and Monique Ambers are better off having coached alongside Whisenant, if only for a few years.

John Whisenant
Juan Ocampo/Getty ImagesJohn Whisenant was 95-52 in 3½ seasons with the Monarchs.

Ultimately, I think the past couple of years put a lot of stress on Whisenant, who's 61. When you're good, coaching can be very demanding. And unfortunately, Whisenant -- who led the Monarchs to the 2005 WNBA title -- has had to juggle Sacramento's success with a lot of personal factors. His mother died in June, he missed the wedding of his youngest son, Justin, to attend the Monarchs' season opener back in May, and don't underestimate how stressful his candidacy for the Sacramento Kings' job was earlier this summer, as well.

But at his core, Whisenant is very much a family man. He has always been good to his players, but he loves his own kids, too (he and his wife, Joyce, have five children). And right now, I think it came down to Whisenant loving his family more than he loves basketball.

Still, Whisenant isn't straying too far from the sport, or, according to Gavin Maloof, his early aspirations with the franchise.

"We brought in [Whisenant] to be a general manager, but he ended up being our coach, too," said Maloof, whose family owns the Sacramento Kings and Monarchs. "So he's just going back to what he initially wanted to do."

In August, during a coaches' teleconference prior to the playoffs, Whisenant admitted the regular season hadn't been easy, especially one in which several of his players were struck with injuries and illnesses. And, of course, he was still dealing with his own mourning.

"It was hard to keep my focus," he said. "I had to [wonder] whether my situation in the early part of the season affected me mentally as far as being a leader to this group. I've tried to fight through all of that."

Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Nancy coached the Shock from 1998-2001. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.

Nancy Lieberman

Basketball analyst / Writer
Nancy Lieberman, one of the most recognized individuals in women's basketball, is a men's and women's basketball analyst for ESPN. She works on ESPN and ESPN2's coverage of men's and women's college basketball, plus the WNBA and writes for ESPN.com.

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