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Sparks prepare to move forward behind the ‘wisdom’ of Fred Williams

(Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

A day after the Sparks parted ways with head coach and general manager Derek Fisher, Fred Williams, who had served as assistant since Fisher took over in December 2019, was introduced as interim head coach.

Williams brings 39-plus years of women’s college basketball coaching experience, including having coached in the WNBA since 1998. The 65-year-old coach said Fisher informed him on Monday afternoon that he and the organization had mutually agreed to split, and that he felt Williams was the right person to assume head coaching duties in his place.

The following day, Sparks CEO Eric Holoman officially elevated Williams to interim status after the two spoke. Williams then called each of his players individually to discuss the coaching change.

“Fred’s been an OG,“ Sparks captain Nneka Ogwumike said. “Having that sageness and wisdom in a no-nonsense type of way is what he offers.”

“That man has the brain for basketball,” guard Brittney Sykes added. “There’s that level of comfort knowing that we have someone who knows the game in and out. There’s no bad blood on his name. To have that as a head coach, that’s amazing.”

Both Sparks players characterized their new head coach as a man of few words.

“He talked a little bit more than usual (in practice Wednesday),” Sykes said. “When he talks, it’s very important and we all listen.”

Sykes was getting her hair done on an off-day Tuesday when, suddenly, her phone blew up with messages form people sending her articles and asking about the big news. She still hadn’t had much time to absorb the change when asked about it Wednesday.

“I don’t know how to feel,” Sykes said. “We’ve just been in game after game after game.”

Fisher’s ouster marked the third time during Ogwumike’s Sparks tenure that the team has let go of its head coach. Los Angeles had won three of its last five games under Fisher after enduring a five-game skid, leaving them at 5-7 a month into the season. The expectations were higher in his fourth season after the Sparks acquired several marquee players in the offseason, including Liz Cambage, Jordin Canada and Chennedy Carter.

While Ogwumike said that she did not expect Fisher’s exit and was “not necessarily excited about it,” she said she was locked in with her teammates and focused on remaining unified.

“When these changes happen, we can’t stop,” Ogwumike said. “Someone’s gotta play the game, someone’s gotta coach.”

Sykes expressed a similar sentiment, saying that she can only control what she can control, which is playing hard and staying positive.

“Whoever it is in that seat, then so be it,” Sykes said. “We know that the team is together. We all want the same thing and so do our coaching staff and front office.”

On Wednesday, Williams led his first practice as Sparks head coach, laying the foundation for how all his practices will be run. And run the Sparks players he did, as cardiovascular conditioning is a hallmark of Williams’ approach. He told the team that in two weeks they’ll be a “well-oiled machine.”

“We got in, we got out, we were detailed. We came in and got a sweat,” Sykes said of practice Wednesday.

Williams said he wants to see a more up-tempo offense, a more aggressive defense and a lot more help defense. He feels his duty as head coach is to understand individual and team needs and to be attentive to and communicative with each of his players.

When asked who might replace Fisher long-term as head coach, Ogwumike refused to overlook Williams.

“We have a coach who has decades of experience, and I’m totally OK with that,” Ogwumike said. “Everyone knows Fred — not just on this team, not just in this organization, around the league, around the college game. He knows what he’s doing. He knows what he’s talking about.”

Williams had previously accepted an associate head coaching job with Auburn women’s basketball and was set to leave the Sparks for that opportunity in July. Of course, the circumstances are different now, and according to Williams, Tigers’ head coach Johnnie Harris completely understands. Williams described Harris as a close friend and relayed that the pair will reassess the situation after the Sparks’ season ends.

For now, Williams is the head coach in Los Angeles, and as he said, he’s ready to “roll up his sleeves and get it.”

Joshua Fischman is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering Angel City FC and the Los Angeles Sparks. He has covered basketball for Vantage Sports and Hoops Rumors and served as co-host of “On the NBA Beat” podcast. Joshua received his master’s in Sports Media from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @JJTheJuggernaut.