SEATTLE — When the Seattle Storm open the 2012 WNBA regular season tonight against the Los Angeles Sparks at KeyArena, it will be more than just another game for head coach Brian Agler.
If the Storm win, Agler will stand alone with the most victories as a head coach in the history of women’s professional basketball. Agler comes into the season tied with Van Chancellor at 211 wins. Chancellor accumulated all of his victories with the WNBA’s Houston Comets, who folded in 2008. Chancellor led the Comets to championships in each of the league’s first four seasons.
Agler amassed 72 victories with the Columbus Quest of the old American Basketball League and the rest in the WNBA with the Minnesota Lynx and the Storm. He won back-to-back championships with the Quest in 1997 and 1998, and led the Storm to the WNBA title in 2010.
“You reflect on it and obviously you feel grateful for the opportunities that you’ve had and you also recognize … you’ve got to have really good players and people around you to have success,” Agler said. “That’s where teams get their success from, is just the quality of talent that you have. I have been really fortunate to coach some of the best players in the world, whether it was back in the Columbus days or in the WNBA.”
It would be hard to argue with Agler, who currently coaches four of the 15 best players in WNBA history as voted by fans, media, current players and coaches before last year’s all-star game. Two of those players standout from the crowd — Lauren Jackson, arguably the best women’s player in the world, and Sue Bird, perhaps the best point guard in the history of the women’s game.
But Agler’s history with one of the other players on that esteemed list is a bit more extensive. Katie Smith is the third-leading scorer in WNBA history and the all-time leader in women’s professional basketball. She has played for Agler at every stop of his professional coaching career, first in Columbus, again in Minnesota and now with Seattle.
Smith said the record speaks for itself.
“I think it is definitely something, a tangible thing, that you can say, ‘I must be doing a decent job,’” Smith said.
Agler’s coaching career began not long after he graduated from Wittenberg University. He played a season of basketball in Europe before taking a job as an assistant coach in Pennsylvania with one of his college coaches. The following season, Agler’s high school coach landed a head-coaching job in college and asked him to be an assistant.
“Those guys gave me a lot of opportunity,” Agler said. “You need people to give you breaks. I look back on my career and I have caught a lot of breaks with getting opportunities. I sort of go back to the same thing that I talk to our team about, which is as soon as you get your opportunity, you take advantage of it.”
Agler’s early coaching jobs were in men’s basketball. It was at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M — where he was an assistant coach for the men’s team — that the athletic director approached him about coaching the women’s team.
“I decided to do it more from the standpoint that I thought I would get put on full-time faculty sooner if I was a head coach,” Agler said. “But then, you know, just like anything else, if you are competitive and want to do a good job, then you really work at it. And I worked at it and sort of developed a network and ever since then I have stayed with women’s basketball.”
In all, Agler spent 15 seasons coaching in college, 13 as a head coach.
Still, after all those years, Agler has spent more time coaching children, specifically his own, than he has elite players.
“I have probably coached more elementary school, middle school and AAU games than anything else because I’ve coached both my kids all the way up,” he said. “I have just really enjoyed being around the game a lot and it’s been a big part of my life.”
Agler and his wife, Robin, have a son, Bryce, and a daughter, Taylor. Their daughter is a standout high school basketball player who has verbally committed to play at Indiana University.
If not tonight, it’s fairly safe to say Chancellor’s record eventually will fall to Agler, but the Storm coach is more focused on getting his team to another WNBA Finals than he is on writing a new chapter in the record book.
“We have been so focused on trying to put this team together and trying to get prepared in training camp and then focusing on our opponent,” Agler said. “So I really haven’t given it (the record) a lot of thought. If it’s brought up again at some point, probably the same things will go through my mind, just how fortunate I have been to coach some of the greatest players ever to play the game.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.