Brittney Sykes was excited to just have the day off. However, a peaceful appointment for the Sparks guard to get her hair done went sideways when her phone exploded with texts from friends asking if reports were true.
In fact, Derek Fisher, their head coach for the last three seasons, was out.
News of Fisher’s firing took Sparks players and assistants by surprise, but with two-thirds of the season remaining, the talented roster Fisher has assembled is still pursuing his vision of a title, even with a new man leading the charge.
“Across the board, everyone wants to fight for the championship,” Sykes said Wednesday after the Sparks’ first practice session under interim head coach Fred Williams.
Williams, who came to LA in 2018 as Fisher’s assistant, will manage the Sparks for the remainder of the season while the organization searches for Fisher’s permanent replacement — or replacement — as head coach and general manager.
It won’t be an easy start for Williams as the Sparks (5-7) take on the WNBA-leading Las Vegas Aces (10-2) at home at 6 p.m. Saturday
Here’s what you need to know about the Sparks’ immediate and long-term future after the coaching change:
Who is Fred Williams?
Williams is a man of few words but a long résumé.
The 65-year-old was the women’s head coach at USC from 1995 to 1997 before turning professional. His stints as a WNBA head coach include Utah Starzz, Atlanta Dream and Tulsa Shock/Dallas Wings. He coached Dawn Staley as Charlotte Sting’s assistant, guided the Dream to the 2013 WNBA Finals and joked Wednesday that his nearly 40-year coaching experience took up two chairs on the bench.
“We have someone who knows the game inside and out who was around,” Sykes said. “There’s no bad blood in his name.”
Williams’ experience with the team this week helped ease the transition. He said he reached out to each player Tuesday after the change was posted. As they gathered at practice in Torrance on Wednesday, he shared his top three rules: be on time, work hard and have fun.
“You’re breaking those rules,” Williams said with a slight smile, “you’re in trouble.”
What will Williams do with the team?
If Wednesday’s final minutes of practice are any indication of what’s to come, Williams is looking to up the pace. He guided the players through a transition exercise that doubled as conditioning, a frantic up-and-down session that included outlet passes at half-court to assistants waiting in midfield, players quickly stealing the ball back and offense following pushed forward to score again.
Sykes, still catching her breath from practicing, called the practice “death.”
Longest-serving Sparks player Nneka Ogwumike, who led the drill during William’s first year with the Sparks, said she should emphasize reaction, communication and listening. It seemed perfect for a team struggling to find their chemistry.
Williams reassured the players that in two weeks they will be a “well oiled machine,” Sykes said. Williams admitted the next few games could get bumpy as he tinkers with the lineup, particularly the point guard and post positions. But he said at the pace he wants to play, “everyone will have a piece of the pie and be happy with minutes.”
Williams has a long relationship with star center Liz Cambage, who Williams cited as one of the reasons she signed with the team this season after a small promise from 2018. Their history together could help unlock a more consistent performance from Cambage, who has averaged 15.3 points and 6.1 rebounds but only managed one double-double in his first 12 games.
Where are the Sparks?
A third into the regular season, the Sparks are clinging to eighth place in the WNBA standings. The good news is that the hardest part is over: eight of their first 11 games were on the way. They only have one game over the next 10 days, giving Williams plenty of practice time to execute on his vision.
While a coaching challenge could test the Sparks’ locker room, Ogwumike said the players remain united in the same way they held together in early season struggles.
“When these kinds of changes happen, we can’t stop,” Ogwumike said. “Someone has to play the games, you know? Someone has to become a coach. That is our job, that is our responsibility and we have to stick to it.”
Who might be a candidate for permanent employment?
De facto defense coordinator Latricia Trammell could be in line for her first WNBA head coaching job. Teams like Phoenix Mercury and New York Liberty expressed interest in Trammell last season, and she previously led Oklahoma City University to back-to-back NAIA national championships and coached Division II Western State in Colorado.
Trammell’s defense was one of the best parts of Fisher’s tenure. Her contagious passion helped earn 34-year-old Candace Parker the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year award and spearheaded guardin Brittney Sykes’ transformation into one of the league’s top full-backs. Sykes, who was named to the first-team all-defense team last year, said she would like to see Trammell get a head coaching opportunity.
“If one day LT gets a head coaching job and I have a kid, I want my kid to be coached by LT,” Sykes said. “I wouldn’t mind seeing Coach T head coach anywhere. It doesn’t matter as long as they treat them right.”
What about Williams staying with it long-term?
Williams shouldn’t even be on the team this season. Now he’s in charge.
Williams accepted a job as Auburn’s assistant head coach last month with intentions of transitioning into his new role in July, but Fisher personally informed Williams that he wanted the assistant to take over for the remainder of the season. Williams spoke to Auburn head coach Johnnie Harris, who is sympathetic to the Sparks’ situation.
“Hey, you gotta take care of the young ladies here and see them through,” Williams said of his conversation with Harris. “And we can wait and see what happens and decide what to do at the end of the season.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/sparks/story/2022-06-08/whats-next-for-the-sparks-after-firing-derek-fisher-for-starters-fred-williams What’s next for the Sparks after firing Derek Fisher?