Original New York Liberty head coach Nancy Darsch passes away at 68

(Photo: Geoff Magliocchetti)

Darsch led the New York Liberty in their first two seasons and partook in the inaugural WNBA Championship in 1997.

Former New York Liberty head coach Nancy Darsch passed away on Monday at the age of 68. Darsch was the original coach of the franchise upon its inception in 1997, sitting at the helm for two seasons. She was said to be battling Parkinson’s disease.

“The New York Liberty join the basketball community in mourning the loss of the franchise’s first-ever head coach, Nancy Darsch,” the Liberty wrote in a team statement. “Coach Darsch led the Liberty for two years, including the WNBA’s inaugural season in 1997. We are grateful for Nancy’s leadership as a pioneer of this game. Her contributions to the advancement of both collegiate and professional women’s basketball, and her passion for the game will forever be felt.”

Darsch and the Liberty earned the first win in WNBA history in June 1997, as they topped the Los Angeles Sparks 67-57. The Liberty finished 17-11 in that opening season and partook in the inaugural WNBA Championship, then a one-game playoff, against Houston at the end of the year. They were able to improve their tally to 18-12 the following season, but lost out on a return trip to the playoffs through a tiebreaker. Darsch then became the head coach of the Washington Mystics, lasting two seasons in the nation’s capital before the rest of her WNBA career featured assistant coaching stints in Minnesota and Seattle. In the latter stop, Darsch was on the bench for the Storm’s second WNBA Finals victory in 2010.

Prior to her New York endeavors, Darsch was best known for her time as the head coach of Ohio State’s women’s basketball program (1985-98). Under her rule, the Buckeyes reached the NCAA Tournament in each of her first five seasons at the helm and appeared in the national title game in 1993. Darsch previously as an assistant under Pat Summit at the University of Tennessee and later briefly returned to the college bench at Boston College (2006-07). She also played an active role in international hardwood affairs with Team USA, earning a pair of Olympic gold medals as an assistant coach (1984, 1996).

Tributes have poured in for Darsch across the basketball world on social media.

“I was always listening Coach Darsch!” former Liberty star Teresa Weatherspoon wrote on Instagram. Thank you for everything you’ve done in this game of basketball and for the impact you’ve had in so many lives, especially mine. Thank you for understanding my passion and allowing me to be me. NY LIBERTY FOR LIFE! WE LOVE YOU!!! Rest now Coach!!!”

Former Liberty head coach and Ohio State alumna Katie Smith left a multi-photo tribute, reminiscing on the pair’s successful endeavors in Columbus.

“You coached and were friends with the best, won at all levels but Nancy you were an even better person and friend,” Smith wrote. “Her smile, playful punch and just genuine caring spirit will be missed by many.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags