When basketball legend Sheryl Swoopes took over as women’s basketball coach at Loyola (IL) before the 2013-14 season, the consensus was that the university was getting a coaching gem and would benefit from her experience, basketball knowledge, personal triumphs and her long-standing moniker as the “female Michael Jordan.”
Swoopes’ past success on the court didn’t translate to wins for Loyola. The first ever pick of the WNBA Draft and four-time WNBA champion was just 31-62 in three seasons with the Ramblers, finishing no higher than fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Her coaching acumen was questionable and apparently, her leadership approach and relationship with her players bombed as well. Loyola’s lengthy investigation into allegations of player mistreatment by Swoopes, which began in April, ended Sunday evening with Swoopes’ immediate dismissal. The university delivered a brief statement and refused to elaborate any further.
"Sheryl Swoopes is no longer serving as the women's basketball coach at Loyola University, Chicago," Athletic director Steve Watson's statement read. "A search for her replacement will begin immediately. Loyola thanks Sheryl for her service to the women's basketball program."
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According to chicagotribune.com, five former players told the Tribune in April that Swoopes was extremely difficult to play for, frequently threatening players with the loss of their scholarships, and that her unusual coaching style led to the player exodus where over a two-year period, 10 of Loyola’s 12 returning scholarship players had transferred or requested a release from their scholarship.
Basically, Swoopes was too much for the players to handle.
They say superstar players rarely make good head coaches because they are different. Everything that makes them better than everyone else -- the tenacity, the drive, refusing to accept second best, the championship pedigree -- are the same qualities that makes it almost impossible to be under their leadership. They tend to ride the superstar players, attempting to suck every ounce out of their best performers, often demanding the same Hall of Fame performances that they once delivered as players.
And these superstars-turned-coaches often treat the supporting cast like interchangeable parts, rarely offering encouragement and only speaking when instructing or chastising.
Let’s not forget those demeaning, “In my day...” conversations that can go on for hours. Michael Jordan went straight to the executive suites. He wasn’t even going to fool himself into thinking he had the temperament to deal with a bunch of youngsters who come into the league rich. He was liable to two-piece some young boy for not contesting a layup in practice.
Larry Bird was decent, but he rubbed a lot of players the wrong way during his stint in Indiana. Isiah Thomas had some success, but his championship desire and confidence in being able to turn the Knicks franchise around forced him into some risky deals that didn’t pay off. Magic Johnson didn’t make a good coach.
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When the investigation was first announced, Loyola’s student newspaper, The Phoenix, stated in a report that the transfers have to do with Swoopes’ harsh treatment of the players outside of basketball.
From the report from The Phoenix:
Swoopes has a tendency to “cross the line” when dealing with members of the program in regards to their performances and personal lives, according to a source close to the team who chose to remain anonymous.
“She really pushes them to the point of misery and to the point where they shut down,” said the source. “A lot of them feel very trapped about who they can talk to in the Athletic Department because regardless of who they choose, it usually gets back to Sheryl … And I think when it gets to that point … there is no outlet.”
The source also said Swoopes manages the players’ social lives outside of basketball. Last season, first-year player Courtney Williams decided not to return to Loyola due to off-court problems with Swoopes.
The school later hired a law firm to assist with the investigation and interviewing of players. With so many defections and such a thorough investigation, it’s obvious that something wasn’t right with Swoopes’ coaching methods.
As is often the case with basketball gods, she was blind to the truth and reality of her ineffective methods because she felt like all of her kids should adjust to her and meet her standards. But when you are a coach, you have to understand each player's limit and what motivates them to give you what you need from them.
A dictatorship where a coach attempts to degrade and control the lives of student athletes on some 1970s Bobby Knight bogard tip won’t wash in this day and age. We have already seen college coaches dismissed in the past for being too “tough” on student-athletes. I’m sure Swoopes had good intentions. While she had one of the deadliest pull up jumpers to grace the hardwood, she ultimately didn’t have a coach’s touch.