Looking Ahead, Appreciating The Past: Q&A With Cheryl Reeve

It’s been quite the offseason for Cheryl Reeve. After winning her fourth title since 2011 as head coach of the Lynx last October, she was named the Star Tribune’s Sportsperson of the Year, signed an extension with the team as coach and picked up the title of General Manager. Our Kyle Ratke was able to chat with Reeve shortly after signing her extension. Topics include the fourth championship, her new role and what’s to come. 

Ratke: Four championships since 2011. I think we talked last year and you said that you haven’t really reflected on the championships. Does four in seven years change that at all? I can’t imagine how you wouldn’t think about it. Four titles is pretty remarkable. 

Reeve: There’s something about it. It’s definitely a different feeling.

Along the way, you recognize that you have a really good team, but when you sit down, for example, for the ring design. And you’re talking about what you’re doing. What you’re putting on it. Starting to look back from 2011 to now, how many times we achieved the best record in the league in that stretch. The worst we were was second in terms of record. Our worst season was 22 wins and that was the year we won the championship. When you really start looking at it, which we really avoid doing, that’s kind of been our mindset, but something about the fourth made us do that. It became this moment of, I guess, “Wow” is the word that I have probably used the most. For me, kind of solidifying our place in history in sports history in Minnesota, not just the WNBA. That we’ve kind of transcended the landscape of sports. It’s not just the niche thing in the WNBA. I can’t imagine how it feels for our players. That’s probably what I’ve thought about the most. What it’s like to be them to have gone through that.

Ratke: You’ve been so successful for a variety of reasons, but you haven’t let yourself look back. It’s baffling to me how you don’t look back. From the outside, when you see four titles in seven seasons. Especially this past season when it would have been easy to say you’ve won three. We’re good. Move along. I’m just curious on how you close all of that off. That would be the hardest part, in my mind. 

Reeve: It’s actually easy. I think if you look at the personality of our players, the core players that have built this, that have sustained this. It’s a professional mindset of staying in the moment. Living in that day. So, it’s hard to turn it off. It’s what you do all season. It’s hard to turn it off and when you get to the offseason you get to “I didn’t do this well last year, I want to make sure this coming season,” that’s just our mindset. What worries me is we are now taking a look and taking a step back and reading our press clippings, looking at our rings. That worries me because that’s a place that you get softened. I’m okay with taking a moment to kind of, whatever a month or even two months, to kind of shut down and really soak it all in. That’s great as long as we don’t have it as a permanent mindset. But it’s easy to go, “We won a championship.” It’s what’s next. It’s the way of whether it’s the way of sports. It’s what did you do now.

I think this team is . . . They appreciate the group that we’ve assembled. They appreciate every day they have together and they don’t want to waste it. They don’t want to have a time where we don’t maximize their potential. I think that’s where it comes from, a competitive thirst for more. That’s what makes these guys so good.

Ratke: This offseason, you sign the extension. Head coach and also the GM. What about that role entices you, what are some challenges you look forward to and what does it mean to you?

Reeve: You know, Roger (Griffith) and I have had such a great working relationship. From my time here from the beginning when he hired me through this season. The role doesn’t change so much of what I do. What changes it that proverbial moving a seat over, changing the sign on the door that is now head coach and general manager. I don’t have anyone to blame when we screw up personnel wise. “That was Roger’s decision.” Roger put his name on it. Now it’s my name on all of it. That’s the only change. That doesn’t mean anything to me. It doesn’t scare me. The day to day is not changing. The communication with the players doesn’t change. It’s simply a little more work.

A little more administrative stuff you have to go through. The evaluation of prospects and decisions in free agency, that’s all. I’ve been a big part of that the whole way. And Roger was a very good manager of the whole thing. The cool thing is Roger is still with us. Roger is still here and within walking distance I can go walk over and bother him, but he’s not going to be the decision maker, the one with the final say anymore. And it’s exciting. I think it’s an interesting time to navigate. Roger looks really smart to kind of exit on top type of thing. How do we keep this going? That’s the challenge for me now as a general manager. Make the right moves. We’ve got to keep what we have, preserve as long as we can with this group that we have, building around Maya and Syl. Still maximizing around what Lindsay, Seimone and Rebekkah have left. Making sure we have a future, that’s all, it’s what’s driven me in every offseason but now it’s heightened a little bit more when you add a title to it.

Ratke: Have you thought about the impact on society with you at GM and Clare Duwelius as assistant? That’s a big deal. It shouldn’t be a big deal in 2018, but it is a huge deal to have two women in charge and making the decisions for a professional sports team. It’s awesome, but at the same time, it shouldn’t have to be awesome if you know where I’m coming from. 

Reeve: It’s just like a lot of things where we turn the dial to 2018, there’s still a lot of things that we’re talking about. “Are we still talking about this in 2018?” It shouldn’t be a big deal, two women are leading a sports franchise, whatever it is, for us, it’s natural progression. We’ve earned this and now, what’s cool about this, what you’re leading at is that now women and young boys can see women in these roles and it becomes more of the norm. Or it becomes for the young girl going, “Okay, maybe I can’t play in the WNBA, but I love the game so much and I can stay in the game and here’s something I can do because I can see Clare or I can see Cheryl and it gives me this vision.” When you have all men or white men, whatever it is, then you think that you can’t be those things and I think that’s what you’re alluding to. That’s still an issue. I’m really proud to carry that torch and I want opportunities for girls and women to dream about. Staying in sports because it’s  a tremendous profession.

Ratke: With Clare, what have you seen from her? Anyone who knows her, is well aware that she’s great and extremely likeable. What have you seen from her progression?

Reeve: Well, we got really lucky with Clare. How it works in the WNBA, entry level positions in the WNBA don’t pay you very much. And you’re young, usually. If you’re experienced, you’re not taking those positions. So, we had a basketball of operations position open that had a minimal salary, but huge responsibility. Huge responsibility with what Clare has done with basketball operations. Everything she does touches players, staff, so it’s an incredibly vital position, but we didn’t pay like it was that vital. So, the candidates you get for those positions, can be dicey, whether you get somebody good. And we hit the mark with Clare. Clare from day one has been tremendously motivated, kind of was able to get quickly with my gig, meaning attention to detail, that’s first and foremost. Being able to communicate, with me, players.

And you mentioned, Clare has a way with everybody. And that’s what I told her. You’ve got to be able to get things done. And you’ve got to be able to have relationships with people, well beyond me. You’ve got to be able to work within our building, you’ve got Target Center people. The heat’s not high enough, or airlines, or the bus companies, the players’ agents. There’s just so much you’ve got to be able to do and many people you have to reach and Clare’s been as close to a grand slam as you can get. She’s grown the position, she’s learned a ton. She’s already been doing assistant GM sort of work. Her and Roger worked on execution of contracts and even worked with agents in training camp contracts. She’s clearly ready. It made it a very-much no-brainer. I like having Clare right next to me. She’s going to make me look good. She’s someone you want on the team.

Ratke: A few more months before things start up here. I’m sure a lot of planning for free agency, draft, stuff like that. What does all of that look like for you?

Reeve: Jan. 1 kind of kicked off the free agency in our league in that you have to start submitting qualifying offers. You have to make those intentions known with the league office between now and Jan. 14. Jan. 15 kicks off the period when we can begin negotiating with players. All along, you’re preparing for the draft, which is not until April. But you’re also having an eye on potential movement that’s beyond free agency, so you’re exploring everything. You’re keeping your phone lines open, you’re checking in with people on what’s going on. That’s most of it, and that coupled with appearances. And that is a big part of our offseason. Being able to do keynote talks and anything from that to jumping in and signing autographs somewhere, so it’s pretty full. This is probably the biggest offseason that I’ve been part of my time in the WNBA. It used to be hard to fill six months. It’s not anymore. I was able to get a vacation in there. As you know with our league, we’ve gone through a bit of change with relocation from San Antonio to Las Vegas. And then also the transition of the New York Liberty ownership, that’s not finalized so therefore the schedule’s not out yet. So, there are some things that we’re still waiting on, but all that will come together in a hurry. We’ll be ready. We’re keeping an eye on our players. We’re in touch with all our players, so keep an eye on what’s going on with them and healthy. It’s definitely a busy time.

This transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.