<
>

Firing Boucek is a move to boo

Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Coaches must accept the tough side of the business. When your franchise makes upgrades but the results don't follow, when you get in a slide and it looks as if you're not coming out of it, when your players are desperate for a taste of the postseason and it's looking as though you won't get them there … it's probably curtains for the coach.

Because you know the adage: You can't fire the whole team. So instead you fire the coach.

Except … none of those scenarios was true for the Sacramento Monarchs. Yet they still fired coach Jenny Boucek on Sunday.

Yes, the Monarchs are 3-10, and that puts them a gigantic … three games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference! That's totally insurmountable, isn't it?

Of course, the reasons the Monarchs are 3-10 -- those must be all Boucek's fault. OK, maybe she's not the general manager who hasn't made a big trade since dealing for Nicole Powell before the 2005 season. That's John Whisenant, who fired Boucek and will take over for her now.

(One could argue that the acquisition of Powell was Whisenant's only significant move outside of what the Monarchs have done in the draft. And the draft hasn't been bountiful, either, in part because Sacramento has been so consistently successful that it hasn't received many high draft picks. More on that later.)

And, OK, Boucek isn't the WNBA's schedule maker, so she didn't assign her team to play eight of its first 13 games on the road this season, including five in a row away from home.

And, no, Boucek didn't cause point guard Ticha Penicheiro to seriously sprain her thumb, nor did she have anything to do with DeMya Walker's multiple knee injuries the past few years, nor can she wave a magic wand and clear up the aches and pains of several other Monarchs.

And maybe it was a bit too much to expect Boucek to find a youth serum for former Monarch Yolanda Griffith that would have made her 29 again and in her prime. But if Boucek just could have done that, Griffith might still be in Sacramento right now averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds instead of sitting on Indiana's bench with an Achilles injury. (That is, if Yo had ever really welcomed Boucek as her coach to begin with.)

All right, so maybe none of that stuff was actually Boucek's fault. And the team really isn't desperate for the playoffs, as it has made it that far nine of the past 10 years.

But … the Monarchs haven't shown any signs of life lately, right? That has to be the reason Boucek was let go. Oh, sure, they pulled off a surprisingly gutsy win at Minnesota to end their six-game losing skid, then followed that up with a victory over Chicago.

However, then they became the 15th opponent in a row to lose a regular-season game at Seattle. Then they fell on a last-second shot to Western Conference-leading Phoenix, 107-105. The Monarchs covered the Mercury's primary threats, but tiny Temeka Johnson beat them. So that's just bad coaching, isn't it?

Admittedly, I'm overloading on sarcasm here, but not without cause. This move smells of a rat, except that old phrase would be disrespectful to rats. This move smells of Whisenant's ego or the Maloof brothers' meddling or some players griping because people always gripe when they're losing or … probably all of the above. And panic, which really was not necessary.

Whisenant did lead Sacramento to the 2005 WNBA title, and the organization has gone to the playoffs every season since he became GM in 2004. So he deserves credit for a lot of good things that happened in Sacramento. Whisenant took over as the Monarchs' coach in 2003 when Maura McHugh was fired.

The WNBA gave Whiz another chance at coaching. His history in that regard involves both success and trouble. Let's not forget he was part of Norm Ellenberger's staff for the New Mexico men's program that was caught up in "Lobogate." That was a scandal that involved 57 NCAA violations and even an FBI raid of the New Mexico men's basketball offices in 1979.

The Lobos staff was fired, and Whisenant entered the business world. A longtime friend of the Albuquerque-based Maloof family -- which owns the NBA's Kings and the WNBA's Monarchs -- Whisenant focused on real estate and construction, but deep down harbored a desire to return to high-level coaching.

He got that opportunity with Sacramento, but then seemed ready to step back into only a front-office role after the 2006 season in which the Monarchs lost to Detroit in the WNBA Finals.

Boucek was just 33 when she took over at Sacramento, and she's nearly four years younger than Griffith. They never clicked, but the reality was that Griffith couldn't be the go-to player for the Monarchs forever.

Rebekkah Brunson evolved into Sacramento's top post, and she is one of the few impact players the Monarchs have been able to draft in this decade. She was taken 10th overall in 2004. Going back to 2000, the Monarchs have had just two draft picks in the single digits: No. 2 Chantelle Anderson from the notoriously weak class of 2003 and No. 7 Courtney Paris this season.

Anderson is long gone from Sacramento, and Paris is a work in progress as a rookie, just as everyone expected she'd have to be.

Boucek went 19-15 and 18-16 in her two full seasons in Sacramento, making the playoffs and losing 2-1 to San Antonio both years. All things considered, it's hard to figure out what more the Monarchs' brass might have wanted from her in those seasons.

Sure, a 3-10 record this year is alarming. But again, when put into the context of how many injuries Sacramento has had, the lack of any significant infusion of new talent this season (and that is on the GM, not the coach) and the fact that, even as bad as things have been, the Monarchs are not out of range of a playoff spot … it seems as if Sacramento is pulling the plug on Boucek undeservedly.

I chatted with her by phone last week just after the Monarchs had arrived in Seattle. One of the things we talked about was how Sacramento had been trying to maintain its success without making a lot of roster moves and without the benefit of high draft choices.

"The quick way to try to win is make as many moves as possible and hope you get the right pieces," she said then. "But it's not what I believe in or what this franchise is all about. And I'm very glad about that.

"The process is different to win without doing that, but it means you win in the way that I think is more conducive to 'team.'"

In other words, Boucek didn't complain about anything the front office did or didn't do for 2009. To the contrary, she said she believed Sacramento was doing things the right way.

As for the lack of high draft picks, which is part of the "price" of success for any franchise in any pro sport, Boucek didn't lament that, either.

"I like the challenge of not having to go way down in the standings to go back up," she said. "I don't know that there's been another team in the league that has not done one of the two -- either blow the team up with big trades or hitting the lottery to stay competitive. We're fighting to do that, even with our 'star' players getting older along the way.

"It's pretty unheard of in pro sports. And it's hard. But it forces us to play more together, which is what I love anyway. We've accepted that and actually enjoy it."

The Monarchs might respond all right to this coaching change -- not because it was the right move but because the team was coming around anyway. But they still might not make the playoffs. Whisenant faces the same challenges Boucek did in terms of matching up in an always brutal Western Conference.

I don't worry about Boucek getting other opportunities. Some people might say she's too much about the ethereal aspects of competition, she's too much a New Age, feel-good kind of coach. I don't buy it. No coach is flawless, but I think Boucek is learning and growing by the day.

She truly cares about players as people and understands the absolute necessity for the WNBA to keep reaching out to fans constantly. Her passion for the women's game and its history is something the WNBA needs a heck of a lot more of.

Further, it's not as if Boucek's coaching style is to just sprinkle around happy dust and hope it works. She earned her time as a player in college at Virginia and in the WNBA not due to outstanding talent but because she was a grinder who understood the game. She's just 35 and is going to continue to become a better coach.

Whisenant turned 64 last month. Not to be ageist, but is he really the coach of the Monarchs' future? Or just filling in for the rest of this season? If it's the latter, does Sacramento have someone in mind who will be a measurable upgrade from Boucek?

If not, why was this move even made?

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.