Five years ago, Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams suffered a deep personal loss. Upon the tragic passing of his wife, Ingrid, in a car accident, Williams took a hiatus from his coaching gig as an assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s in a better place today.
Williams has remarried. In his second year as the Suns head coach, the unique coach-player connection Williams has with his ballclub is in the spotlight. Perseverance and success have a way of elevating. Quiet strength and dignity are components of Williams’ DNA. This has allowed Williams to coach up the Suns to a dominant 2020-21 NBA season.
As a result, Williams was recently awarded the 2021 Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year after helping propel the Phoenix to the second-best record (51-21) in the NBA regular season.
“I am overjoyed to receive the Michael H. Goldberg Coach of the Year Award from the National Basketball Coaches Association,” Williams said. “I hold the utmost respect and admiration for the coaches in this league, so to be recognized by my peers is an incredible honor. Every coach in our league sacrifices a ton to make their teams and organizations better, so this is unbelievably humbling.”
Williams has coached for multiple teams spanning 16 years, one of which included coaching a younger Chris Paul on the New Orleans Hornets. Coaching up the Suns would prove to be a big challenge. When he took over head coaching duties, Williams was inheriting a team that had just lost 63 of the 82 games they played a season before (2018-19).
Actually, as a whole, the franchise was just floundering with not having a winning season since 2013-14. In two seasons, Williams has come in and has changed the culture of the team. After grinding through a 34-39 pandemic-shortened season, Williams and his Suns turned to another gear. It was a team effort to turn things around, Williams said.
“This award is far bigger than myself and is a result of the work put in everyday by our players, coaching staff, and the entire Suns organization under the leadership of James Jones and Robert Sarver,” Williams said. “This has been a unique year in its challenges, and I am grateful for the tremendous spirit with which our players and staff have approached each day to make this a special season – Everything Counts!”
Paul and Williams have teamed up together again, now older, wiser, and with a young Suns team around them. Rising stars like Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton helped get the Suns where they are today, and not since the 2000s has a Phoenix Suns team looked so hungry to win games.
With Williams operating as the guiding force, the Suns are in the second round of the NBA playoffs after upsetting the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. It took some great coaching on Williams’ part to lead the Suns in beating last season’s NBA champs.
Down 2-1, and having a hobbled Paul not being 100 percent, Williams led Phoenix to three straight wins and the Suns erased the Lakers from the postseason with a 4-2 series advantage.
The Suns were a breakout team this year along with the Utah Jazz, two teams that most NBA fans did not peg to have the best records by the end of the season. For the Suns, this can be credited to the development of the younger players and the leadership of the veterans and coaching staff.
Many NBA fans know that where Chris Paul goes, improvement usually follows, but it helps when he is paired alongside a coach he knows and trusts like Coach Williams. In an NBA TV interview, Williams attributed the success of the team to his coaching staff and players and mentioned the other Coach of the Year worthy coaches in the NBA.
“I was humbled to be the guy to receive that kind of recognition, and it’s a reflection of a lot of work led by Robert Sarver and James Jones and our players and staff that diligently work every single day,” Williams said. “I feel so blessed and fortunate to be in that position.”
The success story of Williams and the Suns is even more impressive when you learn of the recent hardships he has gone through. In 2016, his first wife, Ingrid Williams passed away in a head-on collision car accident. Monty Williams was an assistant coach for OKC at the time and took a step back to be with his five children.
Upon returning to coaching following his loss, Williams credited his faith and family in giving him the strength to come back and do what he loves.
“My focus was just taking care of my children, and that led me to believe I might never coach again,” Williams said in a 2019 interview. “To have your children want you to go back to doing what you love to do gave me even more confidence and more strength.”
There are coaches who accept awards and talk about their main focus being on basketball, like winning a championship or upcoming game. Then there are coaches like Williams who take moments like these to praise those around him.
He thanked his family and said they were one of the biggest reasons why he came back to coaching after the tragic loss of his wife. In the moments where his credit is due, he passes it along to others who either helped him or deserved equal praise, and that is the sign of a true leader. Williams knows the strength of a leader is supplied by the strength and support of those around him, and he constantly gives credit to the support around him.
“I was very fortunate to have had Michael Goldberg as one of my mentors,” said David Fogel, NBCA Executive Director and General Counsel. “Monty Williams embodies the same high levels of integrity and excellence that Michael displayed every day of his life. Coach Williams’ hard work and devotion to his craft led to a remarkable season for the Suns. Congratulations to Coach Williams, the Suns Assistant Coaches, and the entire staff. This honor is most deserved.”
Featured Image Caption: Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams/Courtesy photo