Sandy Brondello said the New York Liberty head coach position is as close to a dream job as she could have asked for after the Phoenix Mercury failed to renew her contract.
Brondello, who won a title and made another appearance in the WNBA Finals in her eight seasons in Phoenix, was officially announced as the Liberty coach on Friday. New York is one of the original WNBA franchises that started in 1997 but is still seeking its first championship.
“I’ve always enjoyed going to New York. Who hasn’t?” Brondello said in an interview with ESPN.com on Friday. “Probably more people than ever will visit me. Everything is exciting – fantastic owners who are very committed to the growth and success of the team and are very down to earth.”
Brooklyn Nets Governor Joe Tsai purchased the Liberty in January 2019, and he and his wife, Clara Wu Tsai, are governors of the WNBA team. Jonathan Kolb is the team’s general manager. Liberty hired Walt Hopkins as their coach in January 2020, but he and the team each went their separate ways in December after going 14-40 the past two seasons.
Brondello was 164-128 aggregate as a coach, with a 24-21 mark in the playoffs. The Mercury reached the postseason in each of Brondello’s seasons, highlighted by the WNBA championship in 2014.
With the WNBA free agency negotiation period about to begin on January 15, the Liberty now have a coach ready to work with Kolb.
“We are on the same page; I have a great relationship with Jonathan,” Brondello said. “It just makes it a little more special because we are aligned.”
Brondello, a guard in the WNBA for five seasons before beginning her coaching career, said she sees a lot of promise in the team’s young players like former UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere, who was Rookie of the Year last season.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how we can expand his role,” Brondello said. “She is a little small, but she is very strong. She has guts.”
As for the former first draft pick, Sabrina Ionescu, the guard who left Oregon played in just three games before suffering a season-ending injury in 2020. Last season, she averaged 11.7 points, 6.1 assists and 5.7 rebounds.
“I think she has no limits,” Brondello said. “She is a basketball player with a very high IQ on the court, very skilled, especially on the offensive side. Not just scoring; her ability to pass. She sees things a lot like Diana. [Taurasi] in that sense. She sees them before they happen.
“She’s not scared; she loves to take that last shot. She wants to be great. It’s part of the battle – if they want it. I’m there alongside my coaching staff to help all the players be the best they can be.”
Brondello said she and Kolb would be working to put together the rest of the coaching staff. Brondello’s husband, Olaf Lange, is an assistant with the Chicago Sky, which won the WNBA title last season. The couple, who have two children, have trained together before at the WNBA and abroad. Could Lange make a move to the Liberty?
Brondello was evasive but said, “You never know what the future holds. Right now, we’re discussing free agency a lot, but I think the sooner the better in terms of appointing a coaching staff because there are other openings in the league. That being said, I don’t want to rush it because I want the perfect fit, not just for me, but for the players. “
There is still a vacant coaching position: Brondello’s former position with the Mercury. Becky Hammon was named Las Vegas Aces head coach in late December and Tanisha Wright was named Atlanta’s new head coach in October.
Mercury beat Liberty in the first round of the playoffs this past season, winning the knockout match, 83-82. Brondello said he feels Liberty can be better on offense and defense in 2022.
“It’s about building the culture and making it a team,” Brondello said. “I’m not a dictator. If you want a dictator-coach, that’s not me. I’m a servant-leader. I want to put the players in positions where they can grow.
“Hopefully, I’m the coach to help bring a championship here. It’s New York, the biggest market we have. I know we will work hard to achieve it.”