Stepping into the Spotlight: Rutgers Basketball Great Patty Coyle Takes Over Liberty Helm – September 2004
When Patty Coyle was named interim coach of the 7-9 New York Liberty, the team had just gone through an 1-8 losing streak that cost head coach Richie Adubato his job. Since then, she has witnessed close wins and losses, experienced the exhilaration of a blow out, the embarrassment of being on the receiving end, dealt with game changing calls by referees, all while watching the Liberty crawl up the Eastern Conference standings. And now, her team, evicted by the Republican National Convention, finds themselves moved lock, stock and barrel into Radio City Music Hall for six of seven final home games.
In short, welcome to the WNBA.
“It’s been challenging. It’s been rewarding,” said Coyle, who had been Adubato’s assistant during his six-year tenure. “I mean, you’d like to get the opportunity a different way, but I’ve tried to do the best we can with what we have.”
What “she has” has been severely hampered by injuries to Crystal Robinson, one of the team’s best defenders and most reliable shooters, and centers Tari Phillips and Ann Wauters. “I’m not one to complain bout what I don’t have,” explained Coyle. “I look at what we do have, and we’ll make it work. We’ve kept a lot of stuff that we’ve run, but I also cut down on that. We’ve always tried to push the ball down the floor, I’ve just tried to organize it a little bit to my liking.”
Coyle, previously an assistant at St. Joseph’s and head coach at Loyola of Maryland, is enjoying the professional level. “I liked college [because] you directly affect those kid’s lives because of when you get them. At this level, you pretty much have the complete person. In college, you have to motivate, and at this level, they’re already motivated. It’s all about basketball.”
Of course, the shift from assistant to head coach has been an adjustment. “Having been a head coach, I understood what I needed to do, but when you move those 12 inches over, it’s a whole different ball game. Not that you didn’t have responsibility before, but the buck stops with you. It’s a lot of pressure.”
Helping Coyle deal with that pressure is new assistant Marianne Stanley. Stanley, who has a solid college coaching track record and also coached the Washington Mystics, is Coyle’s lone assistant, a first in the WNBA. “That’s the way it is,” said Coyle, “and to me that’s fine right now. It’s worked pretty well. Marianne is comfortable doing the defense and I’ve grown a lot more comfortable doing the offensive stuff.”
Coyle also acknowledged Adubato’s role in preparing her for this moment. “He’s an unbelievable teacher of the game,” said Coyle. While some have questioned the presence of NBA alumni amongst the WNBA’s coaching ranks, Coyle does not. “When Richie was hired, when Ronnie (Rothstein) was hired, I thought it was great for the women’s game because they brought a whole different approach. I felt, here are guys coming in with an incredible amount of experience, they’ve coached in the pros, and the women – we couldn’t say that. I think the women’s game has grown because of them.”
Though the “interim coach” label offers no guarantees for Coyle’s future, she is determined to make the most of the experience. “You’re in the best league in the world, at the pro level, and you’re in New York City,” said Coyle. “Can it get any better than that?”