Petersen surprised to land new role as Dream interim coach

ATLANTA — Mike Petersen’s day planner for Monday was missing an important detail.

“At no point on yesterday’s date was written in ‘become an interim coach of the Atlanta Dream,’” Petersen said Tuesday.

Indeed, with the Dream’s May 14 opening game against Connecticut less than two weeks away, no one suspected coach Nicki Collen was about to be named Baylor’s coach. Peterson said he and Collen’s other assistant, Darius Taylor, were as surprised as anyone to learn Collen was leaving.

“Darius and I found out Nicki was as involved as she was yesterday morning before practice, frankly,” Petersen said.

Following a series of Zoom calls with the new ownership group, Petersen had his new title as interim coach.

It is the latest development in what has been a year of dramatic changes for the Dream.

Collen’s departure comes less than two weeks after the firing of Dream president and general manager Chris Sienko.

In February, real estate investor Larry Gottesdiener was approved as the majority owner in a group that includes former Dream guard Renee Montgomery. Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler was pressured to sell her share of the team after she angered WNBA players with her opposition to the league’s racial justice initiatives.

Petersen, 63, had served on Collen’s staff in Atlanta since 2017. He is the former coach at North Texas, Wake Forest, Gonzaga, New Mexico State and TCU. He said he hopes to provide players “with the best structure and guidance so they know what the expectations are.”

Even with all the recent upheaval in the team’s ownership, front office and coaching staff, Petersen doesn’t believe stability is an issue for the team.

“No, I don’t think so,” Petersen said, adding “the best teams and the best athletes very much operate and insulate themselves from distractions. … So this group has been frankly very good at being focused on their teammates, being focused on the process, being focused on the work at hand.”

He said players and staff were “just thrilled” for Collen.

“Baylor is getting a great coach and it’s a great opportunity for Nicki,” he said.

Petersen said he doesn’t want to audition for a full-time job.

“No thank you,” he said, describing his lack of interest as “one of the benefits of having been in this profession a really long time.”

“This is zero about me,” Petersen said. “… Darius would tell you this is zero about him. This is 100% about the players in the organization.”

Atlanta has posted a dismal combined record of 15-41 the last two seasons after setting a franchise record with 23 wins in 2018. Rookie guard Chennedy Carter led the team with 17.4 points per game last season. Last month, the Dream selected 5-foot-6 guard Aari McDonald from Arizona with the No. 3 pick of the WNBA draft.

Petersen said he expects this team could mirror the progress of the 2018 squad which finished strong to advance to the semifinals of the playoffs.

“I think this is a team that will be much, much better in August than they are in June,” he said, adding the transition from Collen won’t be dramatic.

“Nicki always involved Darius and I a lot in practice, in game preparation and in the game so our players are very used to hearing our voices,” Petersen said. “That won’t be a very big change at all.”

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