Editor’s Note: Brian Agler is entering his first season as head coach of the Dallas Wings. He has been coaching in the WNBA for 20 years, previously at the helm of the Minnesota Lynx, Seattle Storm and Los Angeles Sparks and as an assistant with the Phoenix Mercury and San Antonio Silver Stars. He has won two WNBA Championships (2010 with Seattle, 2016 with Los Angeles), the first coach to do so with two different teams, and stands as one of the winningest coaches in WNBA history. This is Part V on Coach Agler. We encourage you to read the first, second, third and fourth installments of our series on him before finishing below.
Brian Agler has been in the business of coaching for longer than most of his players have been alive. But without them, he would be nothing.
The coach laid out the three biggest things that make for a winning team, and whoever patrols the sideline isn’t at the top.
“Number one, without question, head and shoulders above everything: you have to have talent,” Agler explained. “The second is the culture that is developed. The third is the coaching: X’s and O’s, staff, all that. Talent is number one.”
In his time, Agler has been fortunate enough to manage some of the world’s best. Players such as Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird, Katie Smith, Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike have all played under his tutelage, and coincidentally, Agler has won two WNBA championships.
But it’s not only about the pure talent. Competitive spirit ranks highly, too.
“We’ve had some people who have not been quite as skilled but have been great competitors who have influenced winning and success,” he said. “I attribute that more than anything else to any success I’ve had as a coach. Like I said, you have to have talent. Without those people and their level of ability, then we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this. So, that’s where I value all that.”
As the game continues to grow and improve, particularly on the women’s side, so too does the talent. As someone who has been in the game for decades, Agler has watched these changes and noticed the impact they’ve had.
“The athletes are more skilled, more athletic,” he said. “The attendance is growing; the visibility is growing. I see our league and women’s basketball as really being on the uptick right now, and I think it’ll continue to be that way.”
He has seen multiple sides of the sport in his career, too. Agler has been in professional basketball since the mid-1990s, but before that, he was among the college ranks for years. There are a handful of similarities he noticed between the two.
“You’re coaching basketball, you’re evaluating talent, you have to build a team, you have to have an administration or ownership that is supportive and give you the tools to have success. Those are all similar,” Agler listed.
Though there are commonalities, he outlined the contrasts that make the job of coaching professional or college basketball two separate battles.
“The difference in college: you have to spend so much more time on recruiting,” he explained. “I would bet that 70 percent of college coaching staffs’ time is put to recruiting. Then, when you get the players there, because it’s their first time leaving home, you really have to nurture them, be there for them and be a second family there. That’s really important.”
“In our situation [in the pros], we just evaluate talent. We have to recruit a little bit in free agency, but it’s more about evaluating and signing and drafting. We have to pick and choose our times to influence people’s lives off the court. If they need that and want that, then I think we step in and help that. But we’re also coaching adults. We’re not coaching individuals who are going from adolescence to adulthood. We have to treat our athletes as adults. If they want advice, if they need certain things, we try to provide it, but we don’t try to get involved too much in their personal life.”
Agler has coached professional basketball for more than 20 years now, and that’s no mistake. He said he prefers the time commitment, which allows him more time with his loved ones.
“It’s been good for me from my standpoint of my kids played basketball, so it gave me more opportunity to watch them play,” Agler said. “The schedule of our professional calendar gives me more family time.”
Across his career, Agler has had plenty of ups and plenty of downs. What he has learned in both situations have helped him grow away from the sideline, and those lessons hold value for anyone no matter what they want to do.
“More than anything else: the resilience, perseverance and persistence you have to have to be successful, accomplish things and enjoy your life,” he said. “Do not give up.”