For Tamika Catchings, a ‘clean slate’ to build Indiana Fever

The franchise legend is open to different approaches

The only thing Tamika Catchings ruled out on Monday afternoon, meeting with the media via conference call after Pokey Chatman was fired as head coach and GM of the Indiana Fever, was that she would not be a candidate to coach the team.

“Absolutely not,” she said with a chuckle, reaffirming her long-held desire not to patrol the sidelines.

But whether Chatman will be replaced by one or two people, who will be making the final calls on basketball personnel matters, and even things like style of play remain up in the air as the process begins in earnest.

While much of the conversation about Chatman’s tenure in Indiana has looked at the three years she spent in charge, Catchings repeatedly returned to the idea that 2019 was a “clean slate”, and that she, in conjunction with President/COO Allison Barber and Fever ownership, evaluated the culture and results of a single year, the ability to see it up close seeming to matter more than a larger sample size from afar.

Asked about when the decision was made, one that caught several members of Chatman’s staff off-guard, Catchings said the evaluation had been going on “all season long.”

But while Catchings is open to the idea of having one person occupy both coach and GM slots, or two, she said that the head coach is the first order of business. That itself rules certain people out, potentially: executives who wouldn’t want to coach but would want the chance to choose the person running the team on the floor, for instance.

And it also means that someone looking for more autonomy may not find that with the Fever.

Catchings, with a lifetime in basketball, has had her eye on running a franchise since long before her playing says ended. She described the flowchart, when asked about it, as “collaborative”. But it is easy to understand why the word of the head of basketball operations, who is also the defining athlete in Indiana Fever history, would carry outsized importance in the team’s decisions, even if she didn’t hold that official title.

Catchings didn’t express a particular red line that was or wasn’t met — not a playoff appearance, not the fact that Catchings saw a Fever team that she routinely led to the top of the league in defensive performances finish eleventh in defensive efficiency this past season.

Nor did she sound ready to toss out the group that Chatman had collected over the past few seasons, Kelsey Mitchell, Erica Wheeler and Teaira McCowan.

“I think, right now, the most important thing for us is moving with the excitement that we have, the players that we have,” Catchings said. “So what I’m looking at is: how do we continue to build with the players that we have?”

Adding to those players, though, means having a new executive team and operating structure in place soon. Catchings noted that the process “definitely [is] not an open book”, with college basketball season around the corner and free agency in January, though a new CBA could scramble the WNBA calendar as well.

But for Catchings, it is about looking backwards as well, a restoration.

“We are looking at that 2012 team,” she said. “We are looking at getting back to the championship.”

Now comes the hard part: figuring out how to get there. Then again, Tamika Catchings never let a challenge stand in her way.

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