Mohegan — It was a day to separate personal feelings from cold-blooded business throughout the offices of the Connecticut Sun, where forlorn looks and a sense of melancholy greeted the news of Mike Thibault's dismissal Tuesday as the only head coach in the franchise's 10 years.
"This was a business decision," team president Mitchell Etess said from his office, a few hours removed from announcing the decision. "We all like Mike. We acknowledge Mike's done a very good job here. He helped establish us. But there seems to be some ceiling where he's been able to take this team."
Thibault never delivered the elusive championship to the Sun franchise, despite more than 200 regular season wins, four regular season titles and two trips to the WNBA Finals. He is in the final year of a four-year contract and will be paid into March, after which he will receive a buyout package.
Players and coaches throughout women's basketball were stunned at the news. Thibault, a two-time WNBA Coach of the Year, has earned respect throughout the game.
The Sun, who won 25 games last season, lost decisively in the culmination game of the Eastern Conference finals to eventual champion Indiana. Connecticut returns a talented roster as well as European standouts Alba Torrens and Sandrine Gruda.
Etess said the decision to dismiss Thibault was painful but necessary. Even with the promise of next season, Etess said, "there was really no reason to think anything would have been different."
No players were consulted about the decision. None would speak for the record Tuesday, although several were unhappy.
"We made progress last season," one player said. "Everything went forward. Everything. We all like and respect Coach T. There's no way we would have endorsed this."
Etess reiterated this was not a player revolt. He said that consulting players on such decisions "is not generally the way you make personnel decisions. But we will speak to the players prior to hiring the new coach."
Etess said that after every season, vice president and general manager Chris Sienko conducts exit interviews with the players that involves their opinions about the coaches.
Thibault, reached by phone early Tuesday afternoon, said, "I've had a great 10 years. I've loved it. The fans have treated me great. Everyone at Mohegan has as well."
Assistant coaches Bernadette Mattox and Scott Hawk were also released.
Thibault would have surpassed Van Chancellor for most career wins in WNBA history next season.
"It's their money. They write the checks," Thibault said. "They get to do what they want. It's a business. I understand that. I disagree that a different voice will change things. But it's their decision to make."
Etess said the Sun "will only pay one coach at time," meaning Thibault's replacement will not be paid until Thibault's buyout has been completed.
Etess is well aware Mohegan Sun recently completed a round of layoffs.
"We are doing this in an effort to grow revenues and win a championship," Etess said. "The reality is that we reached a peak. We feel we need to get that championship to get to the next level.
"Teams that go up in attendance need that championship. We believe this will be ultimately beneficial to us."
Sienko said as news broke of Thibault's dismissal, several potential coaching candidates contacted him. He said they'd like a new coach in place before free agency (Feb. 1), but would more likely have a coach within a month or so.
"We spent a lot of time going over this," Etess said. "Should we do this? Should we not? Is this the way to change direction? Ultimately, we thought we had to do something because something appears to be missing."