"After the first death there is no other" Dylan Thomas wrote, and that sounds pretty reasonable to anybody who never worked in the world of sports, where things are slightly different.
Everywhere else, when someone pitches you out the window with a pink slip between your teeth, you're going to stay fired for a little while at least, and maybe—if you've proved yourself to be a doofus—forever. That's how it is in corporations, where even one $2 million party for your wife in Sardinia can get you the kind of scrutiny that puts you at home in your Pendleton bathrobe.
But in sports even the chronically hard to get along with don't stay unemployed long. Keyshawn Johnson was deactivated by the Bucs last week and within moments fans—and, no doubt, executives—in many NFL towns were talking about wanting him on their team. Then there are the lucky few in the Lifetime Brotherhood of Coaches, who have as many chances at Nirvana as a Hindu soul, with the power to move from life to life, learning and earning as they go.
Consider the case of the Red Sox' Grady Little, who demonstrated great public stupidity, was punished for it when Boston didn't renew his contract and then, within days, was interviewing for another job. " Grady Little will be fine!" he said in a statement.
Regardless of the sport the Brotherhood is a tidy, cozy family, with internecine squabbles, for sure, but also with an underlying assumption that no brother should be permanently consigned to another planet. How else to explain the continued presence of coaches such as the NHL's Mike Keenan, who two weeks ago was let go for the sixth time? Or the NBA career of Doug Collins who was fired on three occasions.
In real business the scene of execution can be horrendous, fraught with fear. A friend of mine was fired by his CEO a few years ago. The big dog, while he was doing it, became so enraged he began screaming, his mouth wide and his gums actually bleeding, I kid you not. "His mouth was foaming and the ridges just above his teeth were bubbling with blood and sputum, I think because his blood pressure was so high," said my friend. "Sadly," he added, "he didn't die."
In sports, meanwhile, you find the hands-off approach. Recently vanished Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer was to have his very own bobblehead day until the Boss called it off—not quite a firing, but a message as clear as a cannon shot from the Master and Commander of the wackiest ship in the navy.
Sports is a strange world where you have people like former Nuggets coach Doug Moe who at a press conference to announce his own firing, opened bottles of champagne and toasted his career.
Maybe the ultimate tale of a sports parting is that of Pat Gillick, then the Blue Jays' executive vice president, cutting loose third base coach John McLaren in 1990. It's kind of moving. Gillick flew to Dallas for the purpose and met his putative victim in the American Air-lines Admirals Club. The meeting lasted for hours, according to McLaren, who seemed to look back on the incident with fondness.
Why so long a meeting? "We talked about a kid we thought would make it, we laughed about summers in Medicine Hat, we cried," said McLaren, who had been an employee of the organization for 13 years, since Day One. As the tears and memories flowed, Gillick would get up every so often and bump his flight back. At the end the boss was done, the coach was on his way, both savoring an experience that could only happen in the weird fantasy world of sports.