New Seattle Storm head coach Noelle Quinn told reporters Monday that she's "super honored" to take over the defending WNBA champions, who have the league's best record at 5-1, after Dan Hughes announced his immediate retirement on Sunday.
"Obviously this happened very quickly," Quinn said, "but just super honored and appreciative that I have the support from the team, from the organization. They see something within me. I'm entrusted to lead this team. It doesn't go unseen that they are instilling this confidence in me."
Just three years ago, Quinn played for the Storm team that won the 2018 title. She retired following a 12-season WNBA career to join the coaching staff in 2019 and quickly demonstrated to the organization the potential to become a head coach.
Legendary Storm point guard Sue Bird, a four-time champion who played with Quinn for parts of four seasons, described her as "more than ready" to take over the role.
"Our last year playing together, 2018," said Bird, "there were multiple times where maybe we're in a timeout, maybe we're coming on to the floor and she's like, 'Hey, you might want to run this play because this team is doing this.' Countless times. So I think when I say more than ready, it comes from these little glimpses that I've gotten in terms of the little nuggets that she might give me throughout a game. Now that she's in an assistant role, it will come in a play to run, a sub to make, things to look for, adjustments on defense -- across the board.
"What Noey has, it's really hard to teach because it's a feel. I think for her, she'll be the first to tell you that she's on the quiet side, but that doesn't mean she's not seeing everything, observing everything, taking it all in. She doesn't miss a beat. I think we've all been witness to that. It's just people outside of our inner circle that haven't really seen that of her. She's been there behind the scenes the whole time, so she's more than ready."
Quinn is also breaking ground as the first Black coach in Storm franchise history and the third former WNBA player currently serving as a head coach in the league, joining Sandy Brondello (Phoenix Mercury) and Vickie Johnson (Dallas Wings). To Quinn, who grew up watching the league as a season ticket-holder for the Los Angeles Sparks, that representation is crucial.
"It's one thing to have goals, but it's another to see someone who looks like you doing what you aspire to do," she said. "I don't take this role lightly. I understand I have an ability and a responsibility to be a role model in that way -- and I welcome it. I think it's important for young Black girls to see women of color, Black women in leadership roles because you understand you can be more than just a basketball player. You can be a coach. You can be a GM. You can own a team."
The opportunity came sooner than Quinn could have expected as Hughes made the decision to retire after leaving the team briefly last week to attend his son's graduation from the Air Force Academy. That gave Quinn the opportunity to share head coaching duties with associate head coach Gary Kloppenburg, who coached the team to the 2020 championship when Hughes was not cleared to travel to the WNBA's campus site in Bradenton, Florida because of his increased risk for illness if he contracted COVID-19. In May of 2019, Hughes underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his appendix, missing nine Storm games before returning to the sideline.
Coaching last Tuesday's game without Hughes, a 96-91 overtime win over the previously unbeaten Connecticut Sun, gave Quinn a taste of what moving from assistant to head coach will be like.
"It was seamless because the team is amazing," she said. "I'm in the huddle and they're looking at me eyes locked on me like 'You got this. What do you want us to do?' That settled me in a little bit. Of course I had to get my feet wet and get my bearings a little bit and understand that I was entrusted to lead us in a way.
"It was an overtime game. It wasn't just an easy game. The other thing that I'm understanding and realizing is I have to look at the total game. As an assistant, I can focus on the offense or whatever we need at that moment but to just be in sync with that. I was a player at the point guard position, so that natural feel is there. It's just a matter of putting it together. I'm not going to always get it right, but to have those ladies supporting me, it means the world to me."
Soon Quinn, who will coach her first game as head coach on Tuesday when the Storm hosts the Indiana Fever, will become accustomed to her new role. For now, she's still getting used to the change.
"Today was interesting," Quinn said. "There was this moment. It was very surreal for me. I'm like 'Is this happening?' Sometimes it's like am I dreaming or is this real? Just because I don't really set out to be a head coach of a team. It's very much what people see within me. I'm super proud. The first call was to my mom. My mom is superwoman to me. She just expressed how proud she was of me as well."