UCF announced on Monday that it had fired Joi Williams as the head coach of the women’s basketball program after nine years at the helm:
UCF announces Joi Williams will not return next year. National coaching search to begin immediately.
— UCF Women's Hoops (@UCF_WBB) March 7, 2016
Williams finished her UCF career with a 114-163 record.
The closing quote in the release from UCF’s Athletic Director, Danny White, is telling:
“I believe we should compete for championships here, and we’re going to find a great coach who can do that. We’ll move as quickly as possible on the search, but will be diligent and take the necessary time to find the right coach for our program.”
Williams took over for Gail Striegler in 2007, coming off a 21-win season in her fourth season at Murray State. She had previously been an assistant at Clemson for two years, but spent the previous 12 as an assistant at Florida, where she came into contact with UCF’s A.D. at the time, Keith Tribble.
The Knights’ program was coming off two single-win seasons under Striegler after joining Conference USA. Striegler had finished UCF’s run in the Atlantic Sun with four straight winning seasons, including two regular season titles, but failed to get to the NCAA Tournament, losing to Georgia State in the old UCF Arena in 2003, and then having their hearts broke in Dothan, Alabama on a buzzer-beater by Stetson’s Kristy Brown in the 2005 semifinals. 15 total wins in two seasons in C-USA sealed Striegler’s fate.
Williams took over with a bare cupboard, bringing in ten freshmen, seven of which would see playing time. After a ten-win season, Williams’ 2008-2009 team started 2-11, but made it to the C-USA Tournament, and won three games in three days to take the Knights’ first NCAA automatic bid since 1999:
Her team, replete with eight sophomores or freshmen, lost to North Carolina in the first round by five points to finish 17-17.
After failing to repeat the following year, Williams recorded her best season at UCF in 2010-2011, going 22-11, finishing second in the league, and rolled through the conference tournament again. UCF fell to Ohio State in the first round of the NCAAs.
It was the group of seniors in 2011 – D’Nay Daniels, Jelisa Caldwell, Angelica Mealing, Chelsie Wiley and Leah Paige – who represented Williams’ peak at UCF. Juniors Ashia Kelly, Aisha Patrick and Racine Davis rounded the core of a team that took home two conference titles in three years.
But 2011 would be Williams’ only winning season at UCF (the Knights finished 17-17 in 2009). Since then, UCF finished 8th, 8th, 9th and 10th in their respective leagues (the last two in The American), and with a new athletic director at the helm, that was pretty much that.
Williams leaves behind a complex legacy. On one hand, she is responsible for half of the Knights’ four appearances in the NCAA Tournament since moving to Division I. But on the other hand, she had only one season of over-.500 quality out of nine total years at UCF.
Williams was well-liked by her fellow coaches as well, as she was a supportive force in coaches’ meetings. In my own dealings with her in the two years I worked at UCF, she was also highly accessible while clearly in charge of her program and her players. But she was loyal to the cause and set a high example for her players, which she expected them to meet at all times.
That may have also contributed to her undoing. Williams had an unfortunate knack of losing players before they finished their times at UCF for one reason or another (see Emma Cannon and Marshay White, among several others). Roster turnover contributed to her teams’ inconsistency in her final years.
But Williams also made quite a nice living for herself, making “in the $300,000 range,” according to Brandon Helwig of UCFSports.com.
But now comes the reality that Danny White has to deal with: Finding a successor to the first coach he has fired as UCF’s A.D. Speculation is already abounding:
Candidate List by @KallinaScouting for the UCF Yolett McCuin (JU); Patrick Klein (AC Ohio State); Lynn Bria (HC Stetson) Karl Smesko (FGCU)
— Kenny Kallina (@KennyKallina) March 7, 2016
Whomever White chooses to succeed Williams will have to do two things that both Gail Striegler and Joi Williams, UCF past two head coaches, have failed to do: Win consistently in the regular season and reach the NCAA Tournament. Granted, this will be difficult, given UConn’s looming presence in The American. But it’s a challenge that a younger, fresher face – a-la his first hire, Scott Frost – should be willing to take on.