The Los Angeles Sparks, amid a disappointing 10-12 season, have fired head coach Carol Ross, the team announced Sunday.
Sparks general manager and executive vice president Penny Toler will take over head-coaching duties for the remainder of the season. Toler, a former Sparks player, scored the first basket in WNBA history in 1997 when the league launched. She retired after the 1999 season, then joined the Sparks' front office the next year and has been with the team ever since. However, Toler has never coached before.
"I'd like to thank Carol for her contributions to the Sparks organization, team and Los Angeles community," Toler said in the team's press release. "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."
One of Ross' assistants, former Duke and Texas coach Gail Goestenkors, was given the opportunity to stay on staff, but opted to resign, according to a source. Goestenkors was just named Saturday as a 2015 inductee into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
Ross' other assistant, Gary Kloppenburg, will remain with the Sparks; he previously was an assistant at Indiana and head coach at Tulsa. The Sparks announced the other assistant will be Steve Smith, who was previously an assistant with the franchise in 1998, 2009 and '10. Smith has spent most of his career as a high school coach and administrator in the Los Angeles area.
Ross was in her third season with the Sparks. She was the WNBA coach of the year in 2012, when Los Angeles finished the regular season 24-10 and advanced to the Western Conference finals, losing to Minnesota.
Last year, the Sparks also went 24-10, and lost in the West semifinals to Phoenix. Los Angeles' Candace Parker was the WNBA's MVP last season, and she just played in the league's All-Star game on Saturday in Phoenix, along with teammate Nneka Ogwumike.
The Sparks have struggled with consistency this season, and have gone 3-7 at the Staples Center. Los Angeles appeared to have turned a corner with its first three-game winning streak of the season last week, but then lost at home to Washington on Thursday.
The Sparks have had issues at the guard position, as Kristi Toliver missed seven games because of an overseas commitment, and Candice Wiggins has played in just six games because of injury.
Despite their record, the Sparks are still in fourth place in the West, which would be good enough for a playoff spot. Los Angeles is 8½ games behind West-leading Phoenix, but just a half-game behind third-place San Antonio. The Sparks have 12 games left in the regular season, including two at home this Wednesday and Thursday.
Ross signed a multi-year contract extension last December, the terms of which were not disclosed. But then Ross and the rest of the Sparks organization went into limbo at year's end, as the Paula Madison-led group relinquished ownership of the franchise.
In February, a new ownership group led by Magic Johnson and Dodgers chairman Mark Walter bought the Sparks.
Los Angeles last won the WNBA championship in 2002, after also taking the title in 2001.