Carly Thibault has never considered another career.
The Eastern Michigan University women’s basketball assistant coach has coaching in her blood. Carly’s dad, Mike Thibault (pronounced TEE-bo), is the winningest WNBA coach of all time, three-time WNBA Coach of the Year and currently the coach and general manager of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
“I could have played overseas after I got done playing in college, but I knew ultimately I wanted to coach, so I didn’t necessarily see the point in putting it off,” Thibault said about her post-college decision.
Over more than 35 years of professional coaching, Carly’s dad has made a lot of connections, and Carly used those connections to land her first job in the business as Florida State’s Director of Recruiting Operations in 2013, right after graduating from Monmouth University.
“He [Mike Thibault] coached one of the assistant coaches there, Brooke Wyckoff,” Thibault said. “I’ve known her since I was probably 12 years old, so that was a really good situation for me, and he knew [head coach] Sue Semrau was a phenomenal person, let alone a great coach.”
EMU women’s basketball head coach Tory Verdi was an assistant for the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun when Mike was the head coach there, and when Verdi needed to fill an assistant coaching vacancy for the Eagles he called Mike to see if Carly would be interested.
“My dad was like, ‘Well just call her, and talk to her about it.’ Coach Verdi brought me up on an interview, and the rest is history,” Thibault remembered. “They’ve known each other for a really long time. I actually met Coach Verdi when he was working for my dad.”
Verdi isn’t the only person Carly has met through her dad’s long career.
Mike was a scout and assistant coach under Pat Riley for the Los Angeles Lakers during two of their championship seasons, ’80 and ’82. Then the Chicago Bulls doubled his salary to become their director of player personnel, and he was instrumental in their decisions to draft Michael Jordan and Charles Oakley.
“Funny thing is, the year we got Oakley, Karl Malone started sliding in the draft. I wanted to take Karl Malone. And [former Bulls General Manager] Jerry Krause said no because he didn’t come for his interview,” Mike told the Washington Post in 2013. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Malone was thought to go in the first eight picks, so he didn’t do interviews with the rest of the teams. But can you imagine if Jordan and Malone played together? They passed on him.”
Next came two head coaching stops in NBA minor leagues and then a four-year assistant coaching gig with the Milwaukee Bucks. By that time, Carly was old enough to be impressed with her dad working within the NBA, but she says it didn’t seem out of the ordinary.
“When he was in Milwaukee, it was when Ray Allen and Sam Cassell and all those guys were there, but at the same time, I didn’t really know anything else,” Thibault said.
She was impressed during the 2001 NBA All-Star game, when Mike bumped into Jordan.
“Michael was just so warm with my dad because my dad coached him for his rookie year in Chicago. The thing that made me realize how cool it was is that Michael was really warm with my mom,” remembered Thibault. “He hugged my mom, kept talking to her, and then I was like, ok it’s more than just a coaching relationship for my dad and his players.”
The elder Thibault has always been known as a 'player’s coach,' a coach that motivates through positive reinforcement and prefers clear communication over screaming or heavy discipline. Carly wishes she had taken more advantage of that communication in college while playing guard at Monmouth University, where she ranks second in career three-point percentage and games played.
“I think he saw every single one of my [high school] games and in college my senior year. I had to get used to my dad being my coach sometimes,” Thibault said. “I wish I had figured it out sooner because I probably missed out on a lot of really good things. I just blocked it out because I didn’t want to hear it from my dad.”
According to Thibault, being competitive is a family trait. Her older brother, Eric, is an assistant on their dad’s Mystics staff.
“Anything we do is competitive. It could be cards—we’re gonna compete. I’m glad I was raised that way because we had a lot of fun,” Thibault said. “My brother was really instrumental in helping me in college. We would play one-on-one. He would work me out when I was in college and that was really, really helpful.”
The life of an assistant coach at the Division I level isn’t always glamorous. The work is nonstop and, right or wrong, head coaches always get more recognition. But Thibault, who describes herself as a 'gym rat,' doesn’t mind. In fact, she credits the basketball coaching grind for bonding her family.
“I know I have a really special relationship with my dad and my brother because it’s a passion for all of us. It’s more than just a career—it’s something that we all really love. You like going to the gym every single day, and I think that’s kind of where that relationship with my dad started,” Thibault said. “I’m blessed to be a part of a family that wants to better women’s basketball because it’s not always been a sport that’s highly supported. But I think both my dad and my brother have been really instrumental in moving that forward, and I’m just lucky to be a part of it.”
The first round of the Mid-American Conference women's basketball tournament tips off Monday at 5 p.m. at the Convocation Center and will be broadcast on ESPN3 and WEMU 89.1.