It’s Black Monday in the WNBA: the Phoenix Mercury have parted ways with head coach, Sandy Brondello, just hours after the New York Liberty separated from its head coach, Walt Hopkins.
Brondello finishes her eight-year tenure with the Mercury 150-108. Her teams never finished lower than fifth, and they won a championship in 2014, her first season while earning Coach of the Year honors. She finished her tenure with two WNBA Finals appearances and three in the Semifinals. Prior to her tenure in Phoenix, she served as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Silver Stars from 2005-2010 and the Los Angeles Sparks from 2011-2013.
The Mercury are coming off their best finish since 2014, finishing last season 19-13 and runner-up in the WNBA Finals to the Chicago Sky. Phoenix had an up-and-down year trying to get through parts of its season without Diana Taurasi and Bria Hartley. However, despite a challenging first half to the season, the Mercury went on a 10-game winning streak following the Olympic break.
Phoenix rode its second-half success to an 85-80 overtime victory to the Seattle Storm before beating the Las Vegas Aces in the semifinals. In the Finals, the Mercury faced a chippy Sky team but failed to generate enough offense outside Brittney Griner’s MVP-worthy performance.
After leaving the 2020 Wubble to focus on mental health, Griner came back stronger than ever this season, seemingly playing with greater joy and passion than she has in years past. The 6’9” center regularly dunked and added a solid mid-range game to her repertoire. Brondello made it a point of playing inside-out to get Griner the ball as much as possible, which generated open shots for her other teammates.
The Mercury went all-in on its title aspirations this season, trading would-be sixth pick Michaela Onyenwere, plus next year’s first-round pick to the Liberty for Kia Nurse and Megan Walker. Nurse turned into a solid rotational player, averaging 9.5 points per game, but suffered a torn ACL in Game 4 of the semifinals.
One of the biggest questions facing the Mercury’s next coach is Taurasi’s future. The 17-year veteran is signed for another season, but she struggled to stay on the court this season. Whoever leads Phoenix will face an uncertain future regarding Taurasi, as well as spend part of the season without Nurse, should she return next season.
In addition to Nurse, the Mercury have decisions to make regarding Sophie Cunningham and Shey Peddy. Cunningham became a team favorite during the playoffs due to her gritty, physical style of play that got under opposing players’ skins. She notably made a name for herself during the Finals on a play where she was tangled up with Kahleah Copper, leading to possibly one of the most memorable memes in WNBA history.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity and time that I have had with the Phoenix Mercury and would like to thank Robert Sarver and Jim Pitman, my staff and players who I have worked with throughout my time. Thank you also to the X-Factor for your support and for making the atmosphere at our games so memorable,” Brondello said in a prepared statement.
Brondello coached the Australian national team in this year’s Tokyo Olympics, losing in the quarterfinals. She is expected to remain the Opals coach next year during the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Australia.
This article will be updated with any additional information.