The Los Angeles Sparks announced last week that Brian Agler resigned as their head coach. The team is now conducting a nationwide search for their next head coach, someone who will have a chance to lead the All-Star frontcourt duo of Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike as well as two-time Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard. But the new coach will also have younger talent in the backcourt, like Chelsea Gray and Odyssey Sims. Though the Sparks didn’t make the Finals last season, they still have the pieces to make at least one more big run for a championship without making major roster changes.
Who are the coaches the Sparks would be interested in to get them there? We don’t have any insider information on this, but here are six coaches who could make a good fit as head coach of the 2016 WNBA champion Sparks.
Coaches with WNBA head coaching experience
One group of coaches the Sparks are likely to consider consists of those with WNBA head coaching experience. Here are three coaches with such experience:
Amber Stocks, former Chicago Sky Head Coach — Stocks was the head coach of the Sky from 2017 to 2018, tallying a combined record of 25-43. Though the Sky weren’t able to make the postseason in either of her two seasons, Stokes had a tough job on her hands. The Sky had traded Elena Delle Donne to the Washington Mystics before she began her first season as head coach. Before Chicago, Stocks was an assistant coach with the Sparks for two seasons and was a part of the coaching staff when the Sparks won the 2016 WNBA Championship.
Gary Kloppenburg, Seattle Storm Assistant Coach — Kloppenburg spent two stints with the Storm, most recently since 2017. During that time, he also was the team’s interim head coach for the last eight games of the regular season and playoffs. He stayed with the Storm in 2018 and was part of their championship team. Kloppenburg’s main WNBA head coaching stint was from 2012 to 2013 with the Tulsa Shock, where his teams went a combined 20-48. In Tulsa, Kloppenburg was in a rough position because the team was in a long rebuild. But in Los Angeles, he would have more star talent at his disposal, so this team should be able to compete right away.
Fred Williams, former Dallas Wings Head Coach — Williams is the most experienced WNBA head coach on this list. In 10 seasons with the Utah Starzz (1999-2001), the Atlanta Dream (2012-2013) and the Tulsa Shock/Dallas Wings (2014-2018), his teams went a combined 131-153. While in Atlanta, the Dream also made the 2013 WNBA Finals. Williams has helped the Shock/Wings gradually turn into a consistent playoff team after a long rebuild that started in 2010. But the Sparks are looking for postseason success right away.
Assistant coaches with no WNBA head coaching experience
The following coaches do not have head coaching experience at the WNBA level. However, the Sparks should expand their search to include assistants who could grow into the role. Here are three assistants without experience as head coaches but who could be good candidates nevertheless.
Julie Hairgrove, Phoenix Mercury — The Mercury has gone through multiple head coaches and players during its history. But Hairgrove has been an assistant for Phoenix since 2005, and she was part of the team’s three championship teams (2007, 2009 and 2014). Current head coach Sandy Brondello calls Hairgrove her “go-to girl,” and the players also love working with her. After more than a decade as an assistant coach, this may be a great career opportunity for Hairgrove.
Mike Petersen, Atlanta Dream — Petersen has been with the Dream for just one season, but his resume has a wealth of experience at the women’s and men’s college basketball level. He was the head coach at several women’s programs, most notably, at Wake Forest where he spent eight seasons (2004-12), and he is the Demon Deacons’ winningest head coach in program history (125-123). Petersen was also an associate head coach for the Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s basketball team for four years (2000-04). Petersen may not have WNBA head coaching experience, but his resume clearly brings a wealth of knowledge showing he is a viable candidate.
Eric Thibault, Washington Mystics — Thibault has been with the Mystics since 2013, when his father, Mike, became the General Manager and Head Coach. The younger Thibault is an underdog on this list. Even if he isn’t considered for the Sparks’ job, he should gain more interest from teams looking to fill the top coaching spot, as the Mystics continue to assert themselves as one of the WNBA’s best teams.