Seattle Storm coach Dan Hughes, a WNBA champion and two-time Coach of the Year, announced his retirement on Sunday.
Hughes, 66, spent more than two decades coaching in the WNBA with previous stints in Charlotte, Cleveland and San Antonio. He led the Storm to the 2018 championship and built the team that won the 2020 championship with Gary Kloppenburg on the sidelines after Hughes was not medically cleared to travel to the WNBA’s campus site for the season.
In a statement through the team Sunday, Quinn said the “Storm is in amazing shape, after two championships and a terrific playoff run in 2019.”
Noelle Quinn, who played for the Storm before retiring to join the coaching staff in 2019, will take over as coach, inheriting a team that has the WNBA’s second-best record at 5-1.
“You never know when the right time is,” Hughes told ESPN Sunday. “I have this conversation with a lot of us older coaches. To be honest with you, the time seems to be right. The way that the team has kind of evolved, the reality I think of how I’ve kind of leaned on Noey and leaned on Klop and how well they work together. When I was talking with ownership, it just seemed like the right moment.
“Honestly, I’ve thought about it even before the season from the standpoint of it’s always been important for me to kind of leave — knowing this near the end of my career — leaving it in a better position than I found it. That’s just one of the staples of my career. The other is mentoring people and doing those things, especially the former players of mine. It’s been something I’ve thought about for a long time, just wanting to make sure that when the time was right, that there was the ability to kind of hand it off, so to speak.”
That process accelerated over the past week, when Hughes briefly left the team to attend his son’s graduation from the Air Force Academy. With Quinn and Kloppenburg sharing the duties of acting head coach, Seattle handed the Connecticut Sun their first loss of 2021 by a 90-87 final in overtime.
“I remember calling (Quinn) after the game and saying I’m so proud of you, watching your presence and what you’re doing,” Hughes said. “It’s just funny how sometimes things kind of fall into place for a reason. I constantly preach about watching the journey you’re on, whether it’s a team or an individual, because sometimes that journey will teach you and have moments that you actually need to recognize and I thought that was probably one right there.”
After discussing retirement with his family, Hughes shared his decision with the Storm’s players and coaches Sunday. His three-plus seasons in Seattle capped a career that sees Hughes finish with the second-most games coached in WNBA history (598) and tied for third in wins (286).
“Simply blessed,” said Hughes of his time with the Storm. “I thought I had retired once before (after the 2016 season), but to come here, to make some of the relationships that I have made with players — great players, I might add. To make a relationship with a city … I just feel blessed. I would have been happy where I was in San Antonio but I can’t imagine what I would have missed without this opportunity here.”
Foremost among what Hughes would have missed out on: an elusive championship. Hughes’ Silver Stars had lost in the 2008 WNBA Finals to the Detroit Shock in his deepest playoff run before coming to Seattle. In the wake of the Storm’s 2018 championship, the third in franchise history, nobody looked more appreciative than Hughes.
“Could I have appreciated the career I had without it? Yes, but would it have been something empty or a little bit hollow? Yes,” he said. “That gave me a moment that not everybody gets to experience. That smile and that embrace of my wife is on my computer right now. That is a moment that first of all, I wasn’t sure I would have that after my career stopped. That’s something that will identify with me the rest of my life.”
After inheriting Quinn as a player on the 2018 title team, her 12th and final season playing in the WNBA, Hughes has guided her transition to the coaching staff and helped prepare her to take over the team. Quinn becomes the third former WNBA player currently serving as a head coach in the league. Both of the others (Dallas’ Vickie Johnson and Phoenix’s Sandy Brondello) also worked for Hughes as assistant coaches.
Starting with her time as a player and continuing as an assistant coach in the WNBA and head coach at her alma mater, Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, California, Quinn’s ability to visualize and articulate the technical aspects of executing on offense has stood at to Hughes. He related a recent moment on the sidelines during a comeback win as part of how he knew Quinn was ready for this opportunity.
“We’re down four at Dallas,” Hughes said. “I’m saying, ‘We need something from our ’21 series because we want to play full-court.’ She takes it and can put it into communication to the players honestly better to me. Those are the things you register — especially having had so many former players doing that. You can just kind of see when the moment is correct.”
Quinn will have an experienced assistant next to her in Kloppenburg, who has coached nearly two decades in the WNBA and served as head coach during the 2020 season with Hughes working remotely. Kloppenburg has played a leading role in overseeing the Storm’s defense throughout his time working with Hughes while Quinn focused more on offense.
“I think they’ll make a great pair and pretty much had set those lanes up from the start of the year,” Hughes said. “These were all things that were important in my head — to give Klop the presence to really go to an area that he loves and is very good at and to do the same thing with Noey, and then me kind of fill in around that as best I could. What it’s done is set up a thing that they’ll keep right on going in those regards. I’m sure they’ll grow, but the truth is they were doing so much, it’s not going to be tremendously different for them.”
ESPN Staff Writer Alex Scarborough contributed to this report.