The following conversation with lightly edited for clarity.
Lucas Seehafer: The first thing that I want to touch on is the promotion that you recently got. I was just wondering if you could kind of guide me through that process of how you and [Minnesota Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve] met and came to the decision to have you accept the associate head coach position.
Katie Smith: We had some conversations [after the season] and really just talked about the next steps. You know, obviously, I’ve been a head coach before. I think this will be my ninth year coaching in general, so seventh as an assistant, and then I was the associate head coach in New York, as well. So, just more of the just the progression of my experience, kind of what I’ve done with the Lynx, and just next steps of keeping the staff, keeping us all together.
LS: I’m not sure many people, myself included to a certain extent, truly understand the difference between an associate head coach and an assistant coach. What makes the associate head coach role different than just a straight-up assistant coach.
KS: I think your duties are somewhat the same. I mean, obviously, expectations of prep, having an opinion game-planning, you know, really approaching it as a head coach. [But] that’s something obviously as an assistant you do, too. But I think it’s also just kind of the pecking order in a sense. Like if anything happens, if Reeve gets two technicals and gets tossed out of the game, then it’s already established kind of how it will go.
Honestly, you continue to do your job at a high level and just make sure that you are prepped and talking really like a head coach, but you should do that anyway as an assistant. You just want to come prepared to make sure that you’re looking at everything and giving great input to try to help the team, to be the best we can be.
LS: You kind of mentioned it, but I kind of want to dig a little bit deeper. So you have past experience as an associate head coach and as a head coach. How do you think those experiences have impacted your ability to be an assistant on the Lynx staff, in particular?
KS: I just think that you really understand what you need and what you want from those that you’re working with. You want to be somebody who, if you watch the film, you have ideas, you’ve self-scouted your own team, you’re throwing things [out there]. You also can put the things that you see on film and put those in your workout, your individual workouts, with your players and not always needing the head coach to tell you what to do. Coming in there, leading conversations, and not just waiting for her to throw out ideas.
That’s what you really appreciate after you’ve been in that seat. Having people who are coming up with the ideas to start a conversation where you just are always the ones leading because it’s your opinion and your thought. You’d like to get other thoughts and see how other people look at it. So, that’s the biggest thing is just understanding that you are a very active participant in ideas and thoughts and also taking the first step, not waiting for somebody to tell you to do something. Take it upon yourself to do edits and to write things down or make suggestions. That’s what you really kind of get out of the different positions that I’ve been in and it just makes you a better assistant or associate head coach.
LS: I believe in one of Cheryl’s recent podcast episodes, she had mentioned that she’d love for you to get the opportunity to be a head coach again at the WNBA level. Is that something that you would have interest in if the right opportunity arose?
KS: Yeah, I do. I’d like to be a head coach again. I love where I’m at. I absolutely love working with the Lynx and with our staff. I mean, not only basketball-wise is it elite, it’s the people. We all just work so well together and on top of it are very good friends. There’s a lot of trust involved. But yes, I’d love to be a head coach again. When the right opportunity comes along, you know, I’ll definitely put my hat in the ring.
LS: Did you have any talks with teams at all this past offseason about the open opportunities throughout the league?
KS: No, I didn’t have any interest this offseason.
LS: So, what you were speaking about having such a great team. This is a question that I posed to [Lynx assistant general manager Clare Duwelius] when I spoke with her a couple of weeks ago and I want to hear your Insight as well: Not only is the Lynx front office and coaching staff comprised solely of women, but also former players, women of color, and prominent members of the LGBTQ community. What do you think that level of representation in women’s sports means?
KS: It’s awesome, first and foremost. It’s been a lot of fun. I knew “P”, obviously played with [Lynx assistant coach Plenette Pierson]. Cheryl Reeve, obviously I knew. [Rebekkah Brunson] I knew of and played against, but I never had a lot of dialogue with her. I just knew her career. Claire, I mean she’s just so good at what she does.
Everybody, we all have our strengths and weaknesses, personalities, but the one thing I think for all of us is that we’re all genuinely good people and, at the end of the day, we’re really team players who, our careers and how we were as players, is the same way we are as a staff. Honestly, we will do anything to help each other. We will do anything that the team needs, whatever that means. It’s just, it’s really kind of cool to not only have these hard workers but people who really just are selfless. And then at the end of the day, we have a really good time working together. We enjoy going to work and spending time together.
But I do think the representation matters. I think we represent the whole gamut. We represent former players, and as you said the LGBTQ community, women of color. It’s nice to see that’s normal for us because it feels like we’re part of a team and the teams that we’ve played on. Looking from the outside, to see people in these positions for Cheryl to continue to groom us and teach us and for us to continue to grow as people and coaches so that we can then pay this forward and do the same thing and bring people along and make sure that we hire those that represent who you’re working with and to continue to empower women from all backgrounds.
I’m just very proud of it. Not only for the diversity piece but for just the skill level and just some pretty amazing women that we work with.
LS: This is a question that just popped into my head. One of the debates in sports that’s always going around is the necessity for a coach to have played the game at a high level and how that translates to success in the coaching realm. Obviously, you have examples of coaches that didn’t play at a high level and have lots of success, but then you look at your coaching staff, and you’ve got, I mean, you’re a Hall of Famer, Rebekkah’s one of the greatest rebounders in WNBA history. Do you think that all your success, does that bring more respect from the athletes and cause them to listen to what you’re saying more, or do you think it’s just kind of immaterial?
KS: I think it does give you some credibility. It gets you in the door, right. Get’s your foot in the door with the players. They know you’ve done it. You’ve lived it. You’ve done what they’ve done. You’ve trained. You’ve been tired. You’ve been on the road. You get who they are and what they’re going through.
Now, we’re all different, but I think it gets our foot in the door for that credibility and then it’s on to what are you doing now? What are we doing to help them now? Our communication, the drills, pushing them, watching film with them.
The communication within our staff is so great. We walk through everything so that we know before practice, before games, we’re all locked in and in lockstep to get after it. So, I think it does give us a step up because we have been there. I think it is great for all of us. We’ve all played at a high level. Reeve, LaSalle was her high point. She’s been coaching for a long, long time. She’s been under some of the best and she’s proven herself in that arena. [She’s] obviously the best in the business.
I do think that we have a different frame and we’ve won and we know what it feels like when you have a great group. You understand the type of people you need. You understand the level of commitment [that’s needed] so when you do speak about what winning looks like, there’s a lot that we can bring to the table because we’ve all been a part of it. But we’ve also been a part of teams that haven’t been successful and that’s why you understand what it is. What winning looks like.