At Casino, Sun Betting On Anne Donovan

Anne Donovan

Anne Donovan was introduced as coach of the Connecticut Sun Thursday. (Michael McAndrews, Hartford Courant / January 3, 2013)

UNCASVILLE —

There is a small yet uncomfortable — even agonizing — difference between winning big and winning it all. On Thursday, a day when she was named the coach of the Connecticut Sun, Anne Donovan insisted she's comfortable squeezing all 6 feet 8 of her frame into that tight space.

"Remarkably so, to be honest," Donovan said.

She had better be.

There has been little romance with the state's women's professional franchise — one that Donovan called the "premier" one in the WNBA — since the 2012 season ended with a Game 3 playoff meltdown against the Indiana Fever. Mike Thibault, who won big yet never won it all over a decade as the Sun's only coach, was fired after a 25-9 season.

So much of the WNBA is about building and nurturing the sport for girls of future generations. So much about the game is about empowering girls for an equal opportunity in life. What the Sun have done this offseason is much colder and familiar to those who follow men's major league sports. They want to win their first title so badly they are willing to roll the dice every bit as much as the gamblers upstairs at the casino.

"Our objective is to win championships," general manager Chris Sienko said. "Anne knows that. It has been made very clear."

So they fired a fine coach and a fine man in search of that hard-to-quantify quality that differentiates a winner and a champion. Obviously, there's risk involved for Sun CEO Mitchell Etess and Sienko in search of that ultimate reward. Just as obviously there's pressure on Donovan.

It's not just win, baby. It's win it all, lady.

You know what I liked best about Donovan's introductory press conference at the Cabaret Theatre? She essentially said, "Bring it on!"

"Pressure is something I enjoy," Donovan said. "I think if you're a coach, you better enjoy it. There's always pressure internally for me no matter what position I'm in. At the same time, there's tremendous confidence with my background and experience. The challenge and the pressure excite me.

"I'm respectful that you can line all the ducks up and one duck can fall aside and things can go awry. It's my job to make sure we keep the ducks lined up and march down that championship road."

Donovan, 51, has done more than quack the duck quack. She has walked the walk, waddled the waddle, if you will. That's why Etess and Sienko insisted she was the name at the top of their wish list the entire time.

"Anne has won every level as a player and a coach," Sienko said.

Actually, Donovan, desperately trying to rebuild the Seton Hall program, hasn't been winning much as a college coach. Yet she also has two unmistakable gold bars on her coaching uniform as a coach of elite performers.

She took the 2004 Seattle Storm to the WNBA title.

She took the 2008 U.S. Olympic team to the gold medal in Beijing.

"That was very important to us," Sienko said.

"[The gold medal] was the pinnacle of my career," Donovan said. "But I also was happy when I won that gold medal and was able to walk away. No pressure will ever come up like that."

Gene Mauch was one of the smartest baseball men in history. He never won a pennant. Few would rank K.C. Jones as one of the great NBA coaches. He won two NBA titles. Buck Showalter is a terrific manager, as fine a baseball man as there is. Hasn't won it all. When the Yankees replaced him with Joe Torre, he was called "Clueless Joe" in the tabloids. Four World Series titles later, he was St. Joe.

My point is the best X's and O's coaches aren't always champions. There are so many factors, some not within their control. And sometimes it's damn hard to know exactly what the X Factor is.

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