Bibby finishes 13-15 in short stint as Sparks coach

Updated: August 18, 2005, 10:23 PM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Henry Bibby's tenure as coach of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks ended Wednesday after just 28 games on the job.

Sparks president Johnny Buss issued a statement saying Bibby would no longer coach the team, although Buss said his preference was to not call it a firing.

"Henry and I have come to a very cordial and mutually agreed upon understanding to part ways," Buss said. "This, in no way, will be regarded by us as a firing. We both understand that a different direction would be best for both Henry and the Sparks.

"It is an amiable situation for us both and I wish Henry the best in the future."

Bibby said much the same Wednesday night.

"The guy didn't ask me to go away," he said. "I love Johnny Buss like a brother. I hope the guy wins. This is his baby -- he has a passion for it. I have no problem at all."

Despite the presence of two-time league MVP Lisa Leslie and newly acquired three-time All-Star Chamique Holdsclaw, the Sparks went 13-15 under Bibby before losing 72-63 to visiting Sacramento on Tuesday night, putting their playoff hopes in jeopardy. With five games remaining, they trail Phoenix by 1½ games and Minnesota by a half-game in the battle for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Bibby said he met with Buss after every game, and the two were constantly trying to come up with ways to help the team.

But nothing seemed to work.

"Johnny said, 'I'm not looking to fire you. You're my coach,"' Bibby said. "We talked about how to jump-start this team. My interest was always to win a championship. I didn't know a lot of ladies would be hurt."

Bibby specifically referred to Nikki Teasley and Mwadi Mabika, standouts who have both missed significant playing time because of injury.

"I wanted a championship as much as anybody," Bibby said. "This time, I thought I could get it. Hopefully with me doing this things will get better.

"I wanted an opportunity to coach. This was a great challenge for me. Win, lose or draw, I'm still a part of this."

Shortly before the opening tipoff Tuesday night, the Sparks issued a statement saying Bibby would not coach in the game "for personal reasons."

Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, hired as an assistant last month, coached the team and will continue on the job for the time being "and until Joe and I have time to discuss the duties for the remainder of the 2005 season," Buss said in the statement.

"I found out 30 minutes before the game, and was told that I would have to handle the bench," said Bryant, the father of Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who attended the game at Staples Center.

The 55-year-old Bibby was hired by the Sparks on April 7 -- four months after being fired as coach of the University of Southern California men's team. He led the Trojans to three NCAA tournament appearances, but was dismissed after four games of his ninth season.

Bibby had an overall record of 131-111 at USC. His 1997, 2001 and 2002 teams made it to the NCAA Tournament, including a final eight appearance in 2001. He is a former NBA player and the father of Sacramento Kings guard Mike Bibby.

"I understand from Henry's viewpoint that he came into the Sparks without much time off from coaching after leaving the basketball program from the University of Southern California," Buss said. "He has mentioned to me that maybe taking some time off before undertaking the Sparks job may have been more appropriate."

Bibby has had a reputation of being a taskmaster.

"Coach Bibby has set a different precedent," Leslie said before the season. "When we step on the court, we're not allowed to laugh and talk. I even told Coach Bibby, 'I'm surprised that I like you.'

"I've never been coached by a person like Coach Bibby, who has an amazing understanding for basketball. I really respect the offenses that he's brought here. I see the game differently since training camp than I've seen in a long time. With him coming from a college mentality, he is a little bit closer to the fundamentals than maybe we have been with Coach Cooper."

Leslie referred to Michael Cooper, another former NBA player who left as coach of the Sparks in July 2004 to become an assistant with the NBA's Denver Nuggets.

After Cooper left, the Sparks were led by interim coaches Karleen Thompson and Ryan Weisenberg through last season, finishing 25-9 but losing to Sacramento in the first round of the playoffs.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press