Los Angeles Sparks head coach Carol Ross was relieved of her duties Sunday, leaving executive vice president and general manager Penny Toler to take the reins of the team for the rest of the season.
A news release on the Sparks' official website documented the decision, along with what Toler had to say regarding Ross' departure:
I’d like to thank Carol for her contributions to the Sparks organization, team and Los Angeles community. Carol is a tremendous coach, but we felt it was time to bring in a different energy to this team. Decisions like this are never easy, and we wish Carol the best.
Gary Kloppenburg will serve as an assistant coach to Toler, along with Steve Smith, who has been on the Sparks coaching staff in the past.
It is evident that Los Angeles is seeking a spark—pardon the pun—following the WNBA All-Star break. Even though the Sparks are 10-12 and hold the fourth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference as it stands, this season has been a stark departure from recent years.
The Sparks went 24-10 in each of their two full seasons with Ross on the sidelines. Now they've lost more games already this year, signaling the need for a leadership change—at least in the eyes of the front office.
Former WNBA All-Star and current ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo weighed in on the Sparks' move to let Ross go:
Toler is tackling quite an increased role, evidently feeling that the squad she's assembled is capable of more than Ross was producing. But this is a substantial undertaking if Los Angeles doesn't improve, and the blame will fall on Toler for failing to deliver.
As the news release notes, though, Toler has helped the Sparks go to the playoffs 12 of her 14 years as GM, affording her some leeway. Toler also scored the first-ever WNBA basket by a Sparks player in 1997.
It is obvious she has high expectations and cares what happens for this franchise a lot. In taking matters into her own hands, Toler is setting herself up for almost autonomous control of the on-court product but also for increased criticism.
There is enough talent for the Sparks to turn it around and make a legitimate push for their first WNBA title since 2002. Reigning league MVP Candace Parker, combined with 2012 No. 1 overall pick Nneka Ogwumike, will give Los Angeles a chance to contend, but chemistry has been an evident issue in the Sparks' lackluster results.
If the Sparks can't respond to one of the most important figures in franchise history in Toler, this season truly will be a lost cause.
However, Toler might be just the force this organization needs to deliver its first championship in longer than a decade—if not put together a respectable playoff run before she determines the best coaching option for the future.