Rob in Greenlawn has a daughter who loves sports. He’s proud of her. So proud that he decided to call WFAN’s Mike Francesa on Wednesday for some career advice.
What, he asked the sports-talk radio king, are the chances that his daughter or another woman could one day be the head coach of a men’s team?
Francesa’s response was a long, dream-crushing rant that left many listeners wondering if they had just been transported back in time 20 years. Francesa not only believes that there is zero chance that a woman will be a head coach of a men’s team in his lifetime, he thinks it isn’t even something that a father should want his daughter to aspire to.
“Do you know how difficult it would be on a female to manage 25 men?” he asked. “Do you know how impossible that would be?”
Nancy Lieberman has a pretty fair idea of how difficult it would be. Perhaps next time Rob from Greenlawn wants mentoring advice for his daughter, he ought to reach out to her or someone who actually knows what he or she is talking about.
Lieberman, currently an assistant coach on the Sacramento Kings and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, became the first female head coach of a men’s basketball team when she coached the Texas Legends in the NBA’s Development League from 2009-11.
“Mike needs to put me on his show so he doesn’t have to conjecture about how hard it would be,” Lieberman told me. “I did have to manage people and we did make the playoffs. He doesn’t have to have conjecture about what could possibly happen, because I know what could happen, because that’s what I did. I went through a 50- game schedule in 2011 when the Mavs won the title and we made the playoffs.”
Lieberman went on to say that Francesa’s thinking is outdated and not backed up by facts.
“That’s sorta like saying, ‘Do you know what it’s like for a woman to be a CEO of a company with massive egos? They will never, never listen to a female ’cause they don’t have management skills and just can’t do that.’ Well, he’s wrong. And we know he’s wrong because there’s female CEOs all over this world.”
Lieberman, of course, wasn’t the only one puzzled to hear someone in this day and age asserting that women don’t have what it takes to successfully coach men. Katie Kolinski, a graduate assistant on the Syracuse men’s basketball team, was just leaving practice when Francesa’s comments started going viral on Twitter.
“I just thought it was silly,” Kolinski said in a phone interview. “I know people like to spark conversations, but at the end of the day, it’s hard to agree with anything he said. Nancy Lieberman coached in the D League and they made the playoffs. Becky Hammon coached the Spurs in the summer league and they won. These are the facts, and if you look at the facts right now, it’s happening.”
Yes, it is happening on all different levels. Doors are slowly opening up for women in men’s sports, and some of the biggest names in the games are the ones opening them.
Jim Boeheim was so impressed with the job Kolinski had done as the team’s student manager that he approached her about joining his staff, making her one of a handful of women to coach on the Division I level. Gregg Popovich, one of the best coaches in the history of the game, made Hammon, a former Liberty star, the first woman to coach full-time in the NBA when he hired her in 2014.
Many think Hammon will be the one to break that glass ceiling and become the first woman head coach of a men’s team. Francesa is not one of them, and it’s his comments regarding her that have gained the most traction. Francesa told his caller that Hammon has “no shot” of ever being an NBA head coach, adding that the odds are “a million to one.”
At least one person is willing to take straight-up odds on that bet. Wall Street Journal reporter Jason Gay has offered to bet Francesa $1,000 that Hammon will be a head coach within the next five years.
Hammon has not made any public comments on the situation. Lieberman said she isn’t sure if a woman will be a head coach in the NBA “in the next five years,” but she is sure that it eventually will happen.
So, Rob in Greenlawn, don’t go to Mike Francesa for career advice for your daughter. Instead, take your daughter to a Syracuse, Sacramento or San Antonio game. Show her videos on YouTube of women coaching. Or of Popovich at the White House explaining why he hired Hammon.
The world has changed a lot in the three decades that Francesa has been at WFAN. And, whether he likes it or not, that’s going to continue.