Ball That Glitters – Minnesota Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve Goes For The Gold
“Winning isn’t everything,” proclaimed the oft-re-quoted UCLA Bruins football coach Red Saunders, “it’s the only thing.”
You’d be forgiven for concluding that Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve would subscribe to the dogma of Coach Saunders. Her career is, after all, boiling over with winning, so much winning that it has, to borrow the parlance of the court, become a kind of loop series: moving forward, moving back, moving up.
Her coaching career began in 1988, when Reeve signed on as an assistant coach at LaSalle—the University, not the explorer—where she had originally played. Once she had distinguished herself with enough wins, assistant-coach-wise, she advanced to George Washington—the University, not the POTUS—where she assistant coached her way to higher-profile wins.
That first career loop began its first arc: at the ripe, old age of 28, Reeve dropped the “assistant” and assumed the mantle of head coach of Indiana—the State, not the state. Reeve guided the Sycamores to their first postseason berth in 20 years.
The loop looped upward, nudging Reeve from head coach back to assistant coach…but this time at a higher-stakes level of winning: the Women’s National Basketball Association. First she assistant coached the Charlotte Sting, then the Cleveland Rockers, and then the Detroit Shock, seeming to resonate with Coach Saunders’ quote as she acquired her first two WNBA titles…as an assistant coach, you’ll recall.
And then, in 2010, the career loop delivered Reeve to Minneapolis’s Target Center. Here she again dropped the “assistant” and assumed the mantle of head coach of the Minnesota Lynx—the wildcats, not the golf course. Reeve took on-court control of a franchise that had been around for 11 seasons and appeared in only two playoff series…each of which it lost.
With characteristic charisma and commitment, Coach Reeve went to work. Within two seasons, she transformed the team, metaphorically speaking, from the Bad News Bears of 1976 to the Chicago Bears of 1986, but she’s quick to share the credit for this shift: “I’m sitting here because of some really great players that [the Lynx] have had,” she insists. Under Reeve’s subsequent, continuing leadership, the Minnesota Lynx have claimed four WNBA titles…which made Reeve WNBA Coach of the Year three times, elevating her to Charlie Sheen-level, duh-with-a-capital-W-style-Winning.
Reeve’s leadership extended beyond the basketball court. “We were the first team to protest the killing of Philando Castile,” she remembers, recalling the tragic shooting of an African-American citizen during a Falcon Heights traffic stop in 2016. A Reeve-precipitated consultation with the Lynx team captains led to the Lynx warming up at their next home game in T-shirts calling for “Justice and Accountability.” The protest was not without pushback, but if difference-making was the metric, then the Lynx’s initiative represented yet another kind of win.
And because even the winningest people need a hobby, in December of 2017 Cheryl Reeve was promoted to general manager of the Minnesota Lynx…while remaining head coach. She was awarded the title WNBA Executive of the Year in 2019.
That would be a fine place to land, to stop…but Cheryl Reeve had one more meta-play to run.
On December 8, 2021, Cheryl Reeve was named head coach of the United States Women’s National Basketball Team—y’know, the team that competes for Olympic gold every four years and the World Cup the other three..? This was the closing of a now-familiar loop, as she had served as an assistant coach for that same team since 2014.
As for winning, yeesh, the United States Women’s National Basketball Team has taken winning to an exospheric level. “It’s a dynasty,” Reeve observes, and her premise is a hard one to argue against: Team USA has brought home seven consecutive Olympic gold medals, along with eight out of the last eleven World Cups.
This new coaching job therefore comes with a peculiar inheritance: while Reeve naturally wants her team to win, she is simultaneously driven by the adjacent determination not to be the coach to break its cobwebbed Olympic victory streak. “You always want to win,” Coach Reeve affirms, “but this comes with an extra fear of failure. It’s a different kind of pressure.”
Of course, Coach Reeve is an old pro at taming such tests. “You just compartmentalize it,” she prescribes, her voice laced with a nonchalance borne of experience. “You don’t look at the big picture. You focus on smaller successes and turn them into a compilation.”
Another pressure intrinsic to membership on Team USA, for head coach, staff and players alike, is the playing for an entire nation while the whole world watches. “Representing the nation is a badge of honor,” Coach Reeve declares. “To represent your country at the highest level of sport, you feel tremendously humbled. If you’re on the team, you have to have a willingness to take pride in being a role model that the whole country can be proud of. It’s not just an honor, it’s a responsibility.”
Indeed, even if Reeve were inclined toward glory-basking, her latest job wouldn’t allow for it: Team USA’s new head coach has to guide her charges through a three-day qualifying tournament that begins on February 10, 2022, facing Puerto Rico, Belgium and Russia. “International basketball tends to be more wide out,” she notes. “There’s more movement…and everybody’s great.”
And eventually, there’s that winning streak to preserve: in 2024, under Reeve’s watch, the United States Women’s National Basketball Team will try for its eighth consecutive gold medal during the Paris Olympics, earning the winningest of wins. I’m excited,” Coach Reeve declares. “I’m ready for it.”
So, yeah, you’d be forgiven for concluding that to Cheryl Reeve winning is everything…but you’d be wrong to do so. What she values most is her life away from winning. “To me, my family is everything,” the Coach reveals unabashedly. “I’m grateful for my family—-for my son, Oliver, and for my wife, Carley Knox. I’m so grateful to speak freely and to be proud of who I am.”