August 19, 2022
Fred Williams departs for Auburn following tough season in LA
Despite a disappointing year, Williams was able to grow as a coach and find meaning in the season
Los Angeles announced this week that interim head coach Fred Williams will leave to become the associate head coach at Auburn University. Before the WNBA season began, Williams had accepted a position on Tigers head coach Johnnie Harris’ staff and was planning on leaving the Sparks midway through the season.
However, when the team parted ways with former head coach and general manager Derek Fisher midseason, Williams was named interim head coach, postponing his move to Auburn. Throughout the season, Williams maintained that he would like to be considered as the Sparks’ full-time head coach, and as recently as Sunday, after their final game against the Dallas Wings, he mentioned that he was still speaking with management and was interested in remaining with the team.
Instead, the Sparks will begin a search for a new head coach, as well as a general manager. Williams initially joined Los Angeles as an assistant under Fisher in 2019. It was a tough year for Williams, having been thrown into the fire and placed at the helm of a team in the midst of a disappointing season after starting the year with lofty internal expectations.
While he admitted that there were some rough stretches at times, he was able to maintain the even-keeled patience that has helped define his coaching style. Williams joked postgame on Sunday that he doesn’t drink, and that, even after this season, he doesn’t intend to start. His patience only grew this year.
“I’ve dealt with some things internally, that really didn’t get out with media, that I had to deal with,” Williams said. “Myself as a coach, I learn from every game I go into and also learn from every player and person that I meet… This season, I learned a lot about continuing to be patient, stay[ing] strong as a coach, and just know[ing] that you can only fight with what you have. And sometimes we don’t have all the bullets to fight, [and] you just gotta keep firing away with the bullets you have.”
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The Sparks ended the season losing nine of their last 10 games, and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year. When Williams first took over, the team was 5-7, having just dropped a close game on the road to the Phoenix Mercury. The Sparks looked like they were turning a corner in late June and early July, when they rattled off four wins in five games, including an impressive come-from-behind road win over the Seattle Storm.
But adversity struck again when center Liz Cambage abruptly left the team on July 26, and Williams found himself facing questions over his decision to bench guard Chennedy Carter. He never once questioned his passion and love for the game, though. He continued to come to work every day and try to help his team grow.
“Even though you may have to discipline a few things in certain areas, you still have to coach with a lot of passion and growth with these players,” Williams said. “They’re still young and they have to understand that, but my passion is I sleep and breathe basketball. I’m always gonna be passionate about this game, especially women’s basketball, and continue to be a pioneer for women’s sports.”
Although this season certainly tested Williams’ patience, one of the biggest reasons why he was able to see it through was remembering his past coaching stops and the struggles he faced.
He mentioned taking over as head coach of the Dream in 2012 and having to suspend Angel McCoughtry. The team still rallied to make the playoffs, and the following season, Atlanta reached the WNBA Finals. He mentioned his time as head coach of the Tulsa Shock and taking a team that was one of the league’s bottom-dwellers and building it up to a playoff contender.
“I’ve learned a lot on that end and that kind of gives me flashbacks of a lot of things,” Williams said. “I would just say that going all the way back to the Atlanta days, that was really a learning experience for me as a coach and GM.”
Williams also used his passion for music to help guide him through the season. A big piano and bass player, he would often immerse himself in his music to relax and to be able to get through each day.
“I’m a music guy, I play the piano, I play the bass… I don’t sing or anything like that, but that’s what gets me through it,” Williams said. “I always keep in mind that it’s a possession. Each day is a possession to live, to drive, to coach, and I feel very fortunate to be one of the coaches in this beautiful league, to be able to coach. I’ve had a lot of wins and had a lot of losses. But I think all the wins have just been pretty much players who become All-Stars, Hall-of-Famers and players who believe. They come back and give me a hug, shake my hand and say, ‘I appreciate that, Coach, for giving me that push.'”
Although he will not be on the sidelines for the Sparks next season, Williams believes he knows the blueprint for building around Nneka Ogwumike and ultimately building Los Angeles into a championship contender.
“The players that are here just got to go out and do their job in the offseason, work on their game a little bit more. And then find the pieces around a player like Nneka so that you don’t have her so much playing against the five player, a big post player, a lot,” Williams said. “There’s no big secret. You got to find somebody, a big hammer in the middle, to dominate.”
Written by David Mendez-Yapkowitz
David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.