REGION — After struggling through a 2-10 start to the season, the Phoenix Mercury has “parted ways” with head coach Vanessa Nygaard on June 25, the team announced.
The Mercury named assistant coach Nikki Blue as the team’s interim head coach to replace Nygaard, who finished with a 17-31 overall record since taking the job last season.
Nygaard, a 1994 Carlsbad High School graduate, played at Stanford before she was drafted by the New York Liberty in the fourth round of the 1998 WNBA Draft.
“We have chosen to make a change at head coach,” said Mercury general manager Jim Pitman in a release. “We thank Vanessa Nygaard for the way she endured and managed the adversity of the last year-plus. Our organization and our fans have high expectations for this team, and we have not reached those with our performance this year.”
Under Nygaard’s tenure, Phoenix was beset by injuries to several of its top players, plus losing star center Brittney Griner, who was detained in Russia on drug charges. Griner’s situation became an international story, especially after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Griner was later exchanged for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as the “Merchant of Death.”
After finishing her professional playing career, Nygaard began coaching in 2003 at California State University, Long Beach, and then at Pepperdine University in 2004. Nygaard served as an assistant coach for the WNBA’s San Antonio Silver Stars (2008), Washington Mystics (2009) and Las Vegas Aces (2021).
Nygaard was the head coach of the Windward School girls’ basketball team for a decade, leading the Los Angeles prep school to back-to-back state titles (2017, 2018) and five CIF Southern Section Championships. Nygaard was named the Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year in 2020.