The San Antonio Stars stayed within the organization to find their next head coach.
The team promoted Vickie Johnson on Thursday to its top coaching position. She replaced Dan Hughes, who retired at the end of last season. Johnson has served as an assistant coach since 2011 after spending four years playing in San Antonio from 2006-09.
“Coach Johnson’s experience, passion for teaching, fierce competitive spirit and commitment to our organization made her the perfect candidate to lead our team moving forward,” said Stars general manager Ruth Riley.
“We have been very fortunate to have Coach Johnson as a part of our Stars family for the past decade,” Riley added. “She has a strong understanding of our culture and goals, and we are thrilled that she will be our next head coach.”
Like Johnson, Riley also was a former Stars player before she took over as general manager last season.
“It’s a great organization,” Johnson said of San Antonio. “It shows what type of people they bring into the organization. They hope to make you part of their family lifelong.”
Johnson recalled Hughes telling her when she came to play in 2006 that he would give her her first coaching job when she retired. Now she’s replacing her mentor.
“I came here with a vision in 2006 as a player to build this franchise to win a championship. We fell short of that, but we were able to compete in the Western Conference finals. Now I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach this team I love so much.”
The 13-year WNBA veteran started her career playing for the New York Liberty. Her debut as head coach will come against her former team at Madison Square Garden on May 13. She is one of six players in the Liberty’s Ring of Honor.
“It’s very fitting for me to coach my first game versus New York in the Garden,” Johnson said. “That’s where I started. I love New York and the Liberty. I’m very excited beyond words, still speechless.”
San Antonio finished last season with the league’s worst record at 7-27 and has the first pick in the WNBA draft.
“We need post players, that’s our biggest need,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to pass up if players come out early (from college), but our need is post players. We need them to play now.”
The 44-year-old coach is one of a handful of former players to make the jump to be a head coach in the WNBA. She’s also the third coaching hire in the league this offseason. All three are African-American women.
“I’m so proud of the direction this league is going in and has gone in,” Johnson said. “It goes from the top to the bottom. To have the opportunity to be in a very unique class of women, Pokey (Chatman) and Amber (Stokes) are great coaches as well. I feel honored. Hope the league keeps hiring the best and not look at sex, race or anything else.”
For years the league has led the way in hiring a diverse set of coaches, general managers and other front office personnel.
“The nice trend which is welcome in the `W’ is having the best possible talent work with our professional athletes,” WNBA President Lisa Borders said. “The fact that the three coaches selected most recently share the attributes of being women and African-American is nothing short of remarkable.”
Johnson was the first player in league history to have 4,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.