The Phoenix Mercury have parted ways with head coach Vanessa Nygaard and promoted Nikki Blue to interim head coach for the remainder of the season, the team announced on Sunday. Nygaard, who was just hired in 2022, is the first coach in the league to be fired this season and ends her tenure with a 17-31 record.
Phoenix's front office made the decision less than a day after the team was crushed by the Seattle Storm, 97-74, for their fifth straight defeat. Now just 2-10, the Mercury are in last place in the league and on pace to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
To some extent, Nygaard was dealt a losing hand. Less than a month after she was hired last year, Brittney Griner wasand ended up missing the entire season. Her absence was a massive loss on the court, obviously, and also took a major emotional toll on the team and franchise. In addition, they were beset by a series of injuries and finished the season without Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi. Just making the playoffs was an impressive accomplishment considering the circumstances.
They haven't had much better luck this season. Diggins-Smith is on maternity leave and it's unclear when or if she's going to play this summer, and while Griner has made her emotional return, she and Taurasi have already missed multiple games with minor injuries. Not much is going to change until they get healthy and Diggins-Smith comes back, but they had to change something and Nygaard was the easiest option. That Nygaard didn't appear to have the best relationship with her stars, particular Diggins-Smith, didn't help her position.
Blue played five seasons in the league with the Washington Mystics and New York Liberty from 2006-10. Before her playing days were over, she began her coaching career as an assistant at the collegiate level with UNLV. After more than a decade as an assistant coach at numerous schools, Blue joined Nygaard's staff as an assistant last season. This will be her first opportunity to run the show.