WNBA head-coaching candidate list filled with established leaders ready for highly competitive league

Derek Fisher was the only candidate the Los Angeles Sparks considered as their head coach in 2018, then-general manager Penny Toler said at the time. When Toler was relieved of her duties in December 2020, Fisher took on the general manager tag, too.

It didn't work out. The Sparks and Fisher parted ways earlier this week after a 5-7 start and a 54-46 tenure that included missing the playoffs last year, their first absence since 2011. The franchise has been riddled with questions and seemingly fell out of the preeminent status it held.

His short-lived WNBA career was like the Upside Down: shock at the hiring and a lack of it at the firing. Fisher, a five-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, had only fewer than two years of total coaching experience when he joined the WNBA. His record as New York Knicks head coach was an abysmal 40-96 (.294). But this is the only coach the Sparks had eyes for two years after a championship.

The Sparks, who said in a statement they will begin a search for a new general manager immediately, would be wise to expand their coaching candidate pool. If Becky Hammon (10-2 with the Aces) and Tanisha Wright (7-5 with the Dream) have shown WNBA execs anything, it's there's a deep pipeline with established leaders who are ready to charge into the highly competitive league.

Here are some the Sparks might be looking at, starting with internal hires:

Fred Williams

Williams was named interim head coach on Fisher's recommendation even though he had accepted an associate head coaching job with Auburn women's basketball. He was set to leave for that position in July, but said this week Auburn head coach Johnnie Harris understands the situation and they'll reassess when the Sparks' season is over.

Williams, 65, joined the franchise in 2019 and has been involved in the WNBA dating back to 1998 with the Utah Starzz. He was head coach of the Atlanta Dream in 2012 and 2013, leading them to the WNBA Finals. He also coached the Tulsa Shock/Dallas Wings franchise when Liz Cambage was there.

Latricia Trammell, left, and Fred Williams, center, were assistants for former Los Angeles Sparks coach Derek Fisher. (Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)
Latricia Trammell, left, and Fred Williams, center, were assistants for former Los Angeles Sparks coach Derek Fisher. (Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images) (MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images via Getty Images)

Latricia Trammell

Trammell has been on the short list for WNBA head-coaching gigs in recent seasons and is lauded for her defensive coaching success. She started in the league in 2017 as an assistant with the San Antonio Stars (now Las Vegas Aces) and joined the Sparks in 2019. Under her guidance, Candace Parker won Defensive Player of the year in 2020 and Brittney Sykes made the All-Defensive second team (2020) and first team ('21).

As a collegiate head coach, she took Oklahoma City University to two NAIA Division I national championships with a 85-10 record over three seasons.

Seimone Augustus

Augustus, 38, is a long-shot choice to move up so quickly, but it's not like the Sparks haven't made such choices prior. The four-time champion of the Minnesota Lynx dynasty switched over to the other side of the clipboard as a Sparks assistant days before the 2021 season tipped off. Noelle Quinn's rise in Seattle was similar. She retired following the 2018 season and joined the coaching staff, then took over midway through the '21 campaign when Dan Hughes retired.

Kristi Toliver

Another long-odds call, particularly since the 35-year-old Toliver is still playing. The two-time WNBA champion returned to the Sparks this week after missing the first third of the season due to her other job as an assistant coach of the Dallas Mavericks. She has been open about becoming a coach in the future.

Kristi Toliver is a Dallas Mavericks assistant coach while still playing in the WNBA. (Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports)
Kristi Toliver is a Dallas Mavericks assistant coach while still playing in the WNBA. (Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports) (USA TODAY USPW / reuters)

The rest of the list includes top candidates from last offseason's coach carousel, which Rachel Galligan detailed for Just Women's Sports. The list includes New Orleans Pelicans assistant Teresa Weatherspoon, who withdrew from consideration from the Mercury job when the Pelicans reportedly pushed to keep her. It also has Olaf Lange (the former Sky assistant who joined the Liberty with wife Sandy Brondello), Pokey Chatman (former Sky and Fever head coach) and Brandi Poole (Sun assistant).

An NCAA coach making the leap seems unlikely given their high salaries collegiately, unless Sparks ownership is going to make a $1 million annual payday a la the Aces and Hammon.

Highlight of the week, plus a prank war

OK, Sabrina.

Sabrina Ionescu lit it up for the New York Liberty (4-8) on Wednesday night in an 88-69 blowout against the Minnesota Lynx (3-9). The third-year guard neared the second triple-double of her career with 26 points, eight assists and eight rebounds in 26 minutes. She sat the fourth with the game out of hand.

Most noteworthy in that performance was her efficiency. She was 10-of-11 and hit all four 3-pointers attempted. She is now the only player with a line of at least: 25 points, eight rebounds, eighth assists, 90% FG%.

And the level of difficulty was out of this world. Her final make was a near-logo shot, which is sort of becoming her brand. She was asked about it afterward.

“Like, why did I shoot that?” Ionescu said. “Sometimes I just wonder. Like, it does not look that far to me when I shoot it. And then after, everyone’s like, ‘Wow, you just shot from the logo,’ and I’m like, ‘I guess I really did.’ ”

Brondello, understandably, called her shots "Diana Taurasi-like." The baby GOAT is still here.

Honorable highlight mention this week goes to Kelsey Plum and Dearica Hamby for an ongoing prank war that ended with the police showing up at Aces practice.

First it was Plum taking Hamby's daughter, Amaya, on a play date to throw water balloons at Hamby on a brunch outing. Hamby then went after Plum's car (on National Best Friends Day, no less).

Fantasy notes

It's all about watching the injury reports this week. Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham will be out a few weeks with an elbow ligament sprain, the team announced on Wednesday. Sylvia Fowles is out indefinitely for the Minnesota Lynx after an MRI showed a cartilage injury in her right knee (my fantasy team is in shambles), while Moriah Jefferson and Damiris Dantas are probable. The latter two appear ready to return on Friday.

In that same Friday night matchup, the Mystics' Elena Delle Donne will miss another game for rest.

Crystal Dangerfield isn't a bad option as a fill-in at guard. The former UConn star signed a second hardship contract with the Liberty on Thursday. She's stayed between 12 and 15 fantasy points her last five games.

What you may have missed

Full weekend TV schedule

All Facebook and Twitter games are also available on WNBA League Pass. Games on CBSSN, Amazon Prime are not.

Friday: Sky at Sun (7 p.m. ET, Twitter), Liberty at Fever (7 p.m. ET, League Pass), Storm at Wings (8 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network), Mystics at Lynx (8 p.m. ET, League Pass), Dream at Mercury (10 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

Saturday: Aces at Sparks (9 p.m. ET, Facebook)

Sunday: Sky at Liberty (2 p.m. ET, Amazon Prime), Storm at Wings (4 p.m. ET, League Pass), Mercury at Mystics (6 p.m. ET, League Pass), Fever at Lynx (7 p.m. ET, League Pass & Fever Facebook).