MIAMI — Brian Agler has come a long ways since a four-year stint as women’s basketball coach at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.
Gone are the days of bus rides to Altus, Arkansas City, Kansas, and Fort Smith, Arkansas, and those infamous box lunches.
Or are they?
“We travel a little further but we have the luxury of flying to our games,” said Agler, who was Lady Norse coach from 1984-88 and now is head coach of the WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks. “Sometimes those (the box lunches) were better than what we get in the airport. It just depends on what your preference is,” he said via phone from Minneapolis, where the Sparks faced the Minnesota Lynx the next night.
After stints at NEO, Missouri-Kansas City and Kansas State, Agler-coached professional teams have won four championships, two with Columbus (1996-97 and 1997-98) in the now-defunct American Basketball League, in 2010 with the Seattle Storm and now with the Sparks.
“We’ve got some really good players and we’ve got some great leadership within our ranks,” said Agler, who was named the first-ever WNBA Coach of the Month for games played in June.
“This team across the board is probably as athletic as I have coached,” he said. “This team has some real versatile players. Our strength is obviously our post game with Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, but we’ve got some good young guards.
Parker was named the WNBA Western Conference Player of the Week for games played June 26 through July 2.
Minnesota snapped the Sparks’ eight-game winning streak Thursday, July 6, with an 88-77 victory.
The Lynx improved to 13-1 while Los Angeles fell to 12-4, two games behind, in the Western Conference.
“The last couple of years, we’ve added some really good young guards to our team. This has given us some good energy.”
The Sparks’ front office includes Magic Johnson, a part owner of the Sparks, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Dodgers.
“In a lot of ways, he and I think a lot alike,” Agler said of Johnson, an original Dream Team member and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer. “With himself, and of course Penny Toller, our general manager, expectations are high. They also put a high premium on getting quality people as well.”
“We feel good where we’re at. The main thing for us, we just try to stay focused on the day. We try to stay focused on our next opponent and we just try to stay focused on improving. We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves, but at the same time, you can’t live too far in the past as well. You just take each day as it comes.”
Agler, who still lives in Ohio with his wife, the former Robin Winfrey of Welch, in the off-season, said he enjoys living in Los Angeles.
“I have enjoyed it,” he said. “The weather is great. The only really negative part about LA is just the traffic at times. It can be difficult, but you find ways to navigate around that.”
Agler, who was inducted into the NEO Athletic Hall of Fame in 2014, averaged 25 victories during his five-year tenure, guiding the Lady Norse to their first NJCAA national tournament appearance in Senatobia, Mississippi, during the 1987-88 season. NEO finished 11th overall.
“I had an opportunity there,” Agler said. “Boyd Converse hired me and he must have seen something in me when I was there helping Larry. At first, I had a little reservation whether I wanted to do that. Being a head coach, you can’t really put a price tag on that. It’s an experience… you can’t beat it.
“There’s always a special place in our heart not only for NEO, but the people of Miami.”
Agler originally came to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M as a men’s assistant coach under Larry Gipson.
Agler succeeded Carol Calcagno as the Lady Norse coach.
His teams wound up winning four straight Bi-State Conference titles as well as one Region II championship. Agler posted a 125-43 overall record while at NEO.
Agler resigned after the 1987-88 season to become women's coach at UMKC.
“Without question, two things jump out at me: just the quality of people that we had at the college and how supportive they were with our program — and with all of our programs,” Agler said of his time in Miami. “It was more like a family environment. We got to know those guys very well. It was enjoyable to work in that kind of environment.
“We had some great people in the community that really supported our team, multiple people, but the Kramers (Rod and JoAnn), Mike Sexton, the people at the banks, Max and Jean Ann Blue. Those people were really supportive of our program there.”
Because of that, he said he was able to recruit quality athletes.
“Over time, there have been several coaches that have helped build that tradition there,” Agler said. “Now it’s regarded as one of the top programs in the country.”
Agler left UMKC to become coach of the Quest, where he posted an 82-22 record in three seasons. He was the ABL Coach of the Year in 1997.
After the collapse of the ABL in late 1998, Agler transitioned to the WNBA as the first head coach of the expansion Minnesota Lynx, piloting them to a 48-67 record from 1999-2002.
He served as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Mercury in the 2004 season, then with the San Antonio Silver Stars from 2005 to 2007.
Seattle named Agler head coach and general manager on Jan. 9, 2008, succeeding Anne Donovan.
Agler joined the Sparks in 2015.
“We had some good players in Seattle; probably as good of a combination with Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson,” Agler said. “That combination was extremely talented. We had great chemistry between those two players.”