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6/06/2007 12:41:00 PM
Five Guys Who Should Have Had a Change of Heart
The happy times for Larry Brown in New York ended right about the time this photo was taken.
Photo by Getty Images
By John Rolfe, SI.com
Flip-flopping is reviled when politicians do it, and coaches don’t get off easy when they develop a sudden case of cold feet after committing themselves to a new gig. Let us recall the New York Post’s testy BELICHICKEN headline after Bill Belichick bailed on the New York Jets one day after being named the team’s head coach in January 2000.
Billy Donovan’s waffling about his new contract with the mired-in-mediocrity Magic is the latest instance, but it actually shows a bit of wisdom at work in the teeth of Orlando’s five-year, $27.5 million siren song to get the Gators head man to leave the University of Florida after two successive NCAA championships. After all, it’s worth asking one’s self if it is smart to give up a great thing and go from the top of the mountain in one place to the bottom of the pile in another. Sure, accomplished coaches love the challenge of proving that they can fix any bad situation, but history shows that discretion is often the better part of valor.
Here are five examples of guys who should have pulled a Belichick and gotten out while the getting out was good and their reputations or nervous systems were intact.
1. Larry Brown: After coaching the Pistons to two successive Eastern Conference crowns and the 2004 NBA title, Brown took his "dream job" in New York only to have it turn into a 23-win nightmare. What a surprise. The questionable, recalcitrant roster was topped by problem child Stephon Marbury, who happened to be a favorite of GM Isiah Thomas and impetuous owner James Dolan. Tuned out by his players and worn out by his hissing match with Marbury, old Larry was done in one, but only after he was left to publicly twist in the wind for weeks while Dolan made the obvious decision about his fate.
2. Dennis Green: Every year, things are going to be different for the Arizona Cardinals. Every year the sad song remains the same. So, new coach Ken Whisenhunt might want to consider the fate of Green -- one of seven men to hold the post since 1986 -- and get out of Phoenix on the next thing going. After posting winning records in nine of his 10 seasons with the Vikings, Green was lured away from ESPN in 2004 by a four-year, $10 million deal to take the helm of a team that has had one winning season since 1984 and a reputation for inept ownership. After a 16-32 record over three seasons that were capped by his memorable eruption after the Cards’ epic el-fold-o against Chicago last October, Green was shown the door.
3. Wayne Gretzky: A managing partner of the Phoenix Coyotes since February 2001, when they were on their way to missing the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, The Great One decided to take the coaching reigns before the 2005-06 season and has since presided over two more losing seasons and golf-filled springs. He’s also taken his share of blame for personnel decisions that were blessed by since-axed GM Mike Barnett, been forced to deal with the insubordination of disgruntled forward Jeremy Roenick, and had his name, and that of his wife, dragged into the mud of a gambling ring scandal that included assistant coach Rick Tocchet, who recently pleaded guilty.
4. Lou Piniella: After winning three Western Division titles, an AL-record 116 games in 2001, and prodding the Mariners into the playoffs four times, Lou signed on with the downtrodden Devil Rays, who reneged on their promise to spend on free agents and continued to wallow in the mire of the A.L. East basement, never topping 69 wins. In 2005, Lou begged out of the final season of his four-year sentence. You’d think that would have learned him his lesson. But after a year of chilling out in retirement, he’s back with the perennially-bewitched Cubs and routinely coming off the spool as the team does what it usually does so well: lose.
5. Billy Martin: How did George W. Bush put it? "Fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again." After leading the Yankees to the 1977 World Series title, Billy got himself booted in mid-season the following year in the midst of a public feud with Reggie Jackson and compulsively-meddling owner George Steinbrenner. But Billy couldn’t stay away. He agreed to come back in 1979...and 1983...and 1985...and 1988...each time fooled into believing that things would be different with sparring partner George.
Okay, now it’s your turn. Who else do you think should have bailed on a situation that ended up going very badly? It can be a coach, player, or front office type in any sport, past or present.
The Braves should have bailed on Bobby Cox, baseball's worst manager. Over a long season, their talent can defeat his ineptness, but in a short series of 5 or 7 games, he dooms them. They should have won the World series at least 5 or 6 more times with their great teams, but not with Bobby at the helm.
Let me say this before I get nailed by other people. I am from Indiana love Larry Bird and was always a fan, but if O'Brien think he can come in as the pacers coach and make a difference with Donny Walsh and bird there he has a huge nightmare coming. Should take the door now as Van gundy so nicely put it, "I'm not interested"...
How about Nick Saban. He leaves an LSU team stocked with talent and one year removed from a national championship to coach the Dolphins, who haven't won anything in a long time. Now, he's back in college, but with Bama, who also has not won anything in a long time and is a team with far less talent than LSU.
Darrel Waltrip left Hendrick Motorsports to start his own team. Hendrick went on to be a power house while Waltrip finished his career assaulting the Champions Provisional on a weekly basis. Had he stayed with Hendrick, 100 wins would have been very likely and who knows how many Winston cups.
How abot Magic Johnson coaching the Lakers?? Should have stuck to playing and hosting a late night show--oh wait, he stunk there too....by the way, Jordan never coached the Wizards--he was part of the front office
Butch Davis. He and Miami would be on par with Pete Carrol and USC right now. The University of Miami would have remained at the 2001 level that he help establish, instead of the car wreck that ensued in Cleveland and Butch ending up with a 3rd teir team like UNC.