Eric Thibault is in line to take over as Mystics head coach

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A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Eric Thibault is 33 years old. He is 34 years old. The article has been corrected.

Mike Thibault wanted his son, Eric, to become a writer. The winningest coach in WNBA history read Eric’s thesis, got about 30 pages, and truly believed his little boy had a future with the written word.

“I go why the hell does he want to coach? He’s such a good writer,” Mike said. “Then I had about 60 pages in it, and he had written it so well about basketball that I said, no, I understand why he wants to be a coach. His writing was good enough to convince me, just by reading it, that he loved the game.

“So I stopped trying to talk him out of it.”

Trying to dissuade his children from coaching may well be the biggest failure of Thibault’s life. Eric is an associate head coach on the staff of Mike’s Washington Mystics and his daughter, Carly Thibault-DuDonis, is the head coach of the Fairfield University women’s basketball team. The kids never really had a chance.

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Eric, 34, is on his way to being the head coach when Mike finally decides to step down. The plan is for Mike to continue as general manager while Eric slides into the first chair. Mike reevaluates his situation after each season and doesn’t seem to be in a rush to leave, but Eric has passed up other opportunities in anticipation of taking over one day.

The job isn’t guaranteed to belong to Eric, but ownership has always trusted Mike’s decision making.

“What’s most interesting is players telling you when a coach is doing a good job or not doing a good job,” owner Ted Leonsis said. “We believe in Mike so much that he will have a big voice and have a say in what we do. Mike wouldn’t put the wrong person.

“We have to approve as the owner. But Mike looks after the team and is involved in every part of what we do. Eric plays an increasingly important role, obviously. But we really trust and believe in Mike, and he will let us know when the time is right, who should be up and why. And then we would stress test that. But it’s not the royal family.

Mike and Nanci Thibault met through basketball when he was a coach before he graduated from St. Martin’s University. The rest of their lives revolved around the game as Mike won two NBA championships as an assistant with the Lakers, was the Bulls’ assistant in the early Michael Jordan years, had stints in the WBL and the CBA before returning to the NBA with the Bucks. . His WNBA career began in 2003 with the Connecticut Sun. Eric arrived in 1987 and was born a basketball addict.

Both parents used flashlights so Eric could script and mimic the Bulls’ intros, going through each player with high-fives and all. He drew plays as a child, each ending with a Jordan dunk. In high school, Nanci would bribe Eric into getting out of bed with the promise of being able to watch “SportsCenter” over breakfast.

“It was the best idea I’ve ever had as a mother, I felt,” Nanci said.

The game was completely intertwined with their lives to the point where Eric once took ESPN analyst and former NBA player Tim Legler to elementary school and was paid by former Bucks center Ervin Johnson to run errands. . Nanci laughed and said young Eric thought Legler was his best friend and came home specifically to see him. While many college students spend their summers going wild, Eric rushed to Connecticut to work with the Sun – and ultimately wrote this article about his 2009 season.

“I was just trying to avoid doing a research thesis,” laughed Eric.

Mike had a tough decision to make when he took over the Mystics. The newly hired coach and general manager was building his staff and wanted to bring his 23-year-old son with him. But would players older than Eric respect him as a coach or believe nepotism was at stake?

Thibault turned to a few former players from Connecticut, where Eric would help while in college, for their input.

“I’m like, why wouldn’t he?” said Asjha Jones, double star and Olympic gold medalist. “He would be in the drills. He was there all the time. So we kind of saw how we worked. And you trusted him.

“He was there every day, so you knew he knew what he was talking about. And he dedicated his life to the sport. So he already knew things that it takes people years to deepen and develop.

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It’s the same line of thinking of Mystics players. Eric, who was named associate head coach four years ago, leads practices as much as Mike, if not more, and is particularly active – participating in drills, performing five-on-five all over the court and doing individual development. with each player. He takes part in three-point shooting contests and spends the pregame with a laptop on the sidelines filming with the players. Twice this season, Eric had to coach regular season games with Mike unavailable.

Elena Delle Donne raves about Eric’s knowledge of the Xs and O’s. Myisha Hines-Allen highlights his passion, leadership and intelligence. Las Vegas Aces forward Theresa Plaisance, herself the daughter of a coach, noted the sophisticated way he views the game and said Eric sees things two or three steps ahead of the players. .

“I think he is doing a really good job of establishing himself as Eric and not as the son of coach Thibault,” said Plaisance, a Mystic in 2021.

It is a period of transformation in the life of the Thibaults. Carly is about to start her first season as head coach. Mike and Eric are trying to maximize a championship window, as the playoffs begin next week, which began with a trip to the Finals in 2018 and a title in 2019. Mike, however, doesn’t want to leave the closet bare when he go. Eric recently found out that he will be a first-time father in January.

There’s a balance between being present and preparing for a future that’s getting closer every day, but there’s no rush for Eric.

“The last thing the world needs is for Mike Thibault to think he’s gone too soon,” Eric joked, then said seriously, “It would be selfish of me to say, ‘Oh yeah, I think about that all the time. But everyone stays in your role, do your role. First and foremost I have to play my role for this team.

“I had a lot of support and indications that I hope I can be here for a while. And we are treated very well. So that’s it. It’s quite simple for me. I love my life in DC”

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The years went as smoothly as one would have expected, as Mike was able to tutor Eric along the way. They were able to share the 2019 championship together after Eric was offered another WNBA job beforehand. The couple don’t hesitate to challenge each other, and there are days when Eric may decline a dinner invitation from Nanci after spending the whole day with dad.

But basketball is a family affair for the Thibaults, and it has been going well for four decades.

“When they decided to start working together, it was really a family decision,” Nanci said. “And mine was, if it starts to drain our family life, it’s not going to happen. Because that’s what’s important. And they did surprisingly well.

“I mean, it’s a hard thing to do. I never had to say, okay, you can’t do this anymore. Not once. … It didn’t go without his fireworks, but it went well.

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