He earned the nickname Fast Freddie at Boise State in the late 1970s, and quickly found success as a women's basketball coach. But the opportunity in front of Fred Williams now is one he has waited for patiently.
Williams, who played for the Broncos from 1977-79, is in his first full season as head coach and general manager of the WNBA's Atlanta Dream. He has guided the team to the WNBA Finals against the Minnesota Lynx, which begin Sunday, and after serving on the staff since the teams inception since 2008, it is a moment he is savoring.
Not many coaches get to see something built from stage one up to this point, so this is definitely a special feeling, Williams, 56, said.
A native of Inglewood, Calif., Williams came to Boise State after two seasons at El Camino Community College, joining a team that included two standout scorers in Steve Connor and Trent Johnson. Serving as a distributor to a good cast of guys, Williams averaged 4.7 assists in 46 games. He is still No. 3 in school history in free-throw percentage (80.41 percent).
We pushed the ball up the floor, which suited me well, and the fans there, the fans were tremendous, Williams said.
After his playing days, coaching became more of a possible career path, as Williams took in coaching clinics in Los Angeles. He happened upon one run by USC coach Linda Sharp, who gave him his first assistant gig in 1983. The Trojans won the national championship his first season.
That was a nice way to start its been 30 years now and still going strong, he said.
Williams remained at USC until 1991, then spent two seasons at UC Irvine as an assistant before returning to the Trojans in 1993 under Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller, whom he coached a decade prior. He took over as head coach from 1995-97, reaching the NCAA Tournament his final season.
The pro game was the next step, as Williams served as an assistant with the WNBAs Utah Starzz and Charlotte Sting, as head coach with Utah (1999-2001) and the NWBLs San Diego Siege (2006) before joining Atlantas staff.
The women Ive coached have a ton of passion. They play hard; theyre good listeners, Williams said. Ive been lucky to coach some greats like Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper, and its a great sense of accomplishment knowing you might have played a small percentage in a Hall of Fame career.
On Aug. 27, 2012, Dream coach Marynell Meadors was fired after a 12-12 start, and Williams coached the last 10 games, going 7-3 and leading Atlanta to the playoffs. The Dream went 17-17 in 2013, but have gone 4-1 in the playoffs. If Williams and company want to win the first WNBA title in team history, theyll have to take out Minnesota, which went 26-8 in the regular season and is 4-0 in the playoffs.
Theyve been here before (three straight finals appearances), and theyre a tough veteran team, Williams said. But weve got a balanced team thats playing well at the right time.
The Dream are in their third finals in four years, but have yet to win a game. They were swept by Seattle in 2010 and Minnesota in 2011.
Atlantas up-tempo style is fitting for its head coach, who thrived running it in his college days. The afro is gone, but Fast Freddie still exists on the court in Atlanta.
I still get out on the floor with my players in practice, Williams said. I like to push it up and down the court. Its the only way I know how. Im not just going to sit on the sidelines, I dont back down from a challenge, and thats the way it was at Boise State, too.
Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_southorn