Sheila Loughery will never forget the first night she watched her husband coach in a professional basketball game. "He was beside himself on the floor," she says. "At home he never gets excited. I said to the children, 'What's going on with your father? I hope he isn't having a heart attack or something.' " That was back in 1973 when Kevin Loughery took over as coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. And since then, with the Nets in both New York and New Jersey, very little has changed. If anything, Loughery has refined his act, which is unfortunate, because his many scrapes with the officials have somewhat obscured his talents as a coach.
Staying glued to a seat during a game seems to be as impossible for Loughery as frowning is for Miss America. No one coaching today has had more technical fouls called against him or paid more in fines. Some of his players say he is only protecting them. Referees say otherwise.
Actually, Loughery has never paid a penny for his 199 technicals, but his misbehavior has cost his owners more than $14,500 in six years. This season he leads all NBA coaches with 26 technicals, which now cost $75 apiece for the first outburst and a total of $225 for being ejected, which automatically results after a second technical. That happened last Friday night in Piscataway, N.J., where the Nets, who had been inching toward respectability after two dreary seasons, lost their fourth straight, all at home. This loss was to Kansas City 137-126, and before the game was over, Loughery had been ejected. While protesting his banishment he wound up bumping Referee Don Murphy and may be suspended.
Norm Drucker, the NBA's supervisor of officials, who called his share of T's on Loughery when he was an ABA referee, says, "In those days Loughery's outbursts were more isolated. As the years go on, he is reacting this way more and more during the games. What he's doing is unacceptable."
A week before, during a game with Houston, Loughery received a technical after only six minutes of play. "He got it for unsportsmanlike conduct and for badgering, which started from the opening tip," says Referee Paul Mihalak. "Some coaches take as much rope as you give them. It's our job to control the game, and we had to keep Kevin where he should be." On the bench.
Loughery admits that the Nets may lose some games because of his technicals, and there was a time three years ago when he tried to soften his approach. After receiving a record six technicals in one game and a $1,000 fine (the Nets were then in the American Basketball Association, which permitted unlimited technicals), he experimented with the sedentary approach to coaching. "I did it for a game or two," he says, "then realized it wasn't for me. Not only is it my style to get up and move around, but the games started bothering me. I wasn't getting my frustrations out. I can't possibly see how guys can sit there, but that's their nature. My style is definitely not for everyone."
That's a blessing. Loughery yells at officials, jumps out of his seat and runs up and down the sideline, sneering whenever he finds fault with a referee's judgment. Even when he stops yelling, his mouth keeps moving; he chews on a wad of sugarless gum throughout the game. When he leaps, he looks like a Raggedy Andy doll, his floppy shoulder-length hair—it turned gray when he was in his late 20s—and arms and legs going in all directions. Most of the time, he is yelling, "How come we don't get any foul shots?" or, "What about some calls on our end?" When not berating the refs he is calling about 85% of the Nets' plays, both offensively and defensively.
Earlier this season his courtside misbehavior caused Referee Richie Powers to give him three technicals in a game against Philadelphia, a punishment not permitted by NBA rules. The Nets protested the game, which they lost 137-133 in double overtime. Commissioner Larry O'Brien not only upheld the Nets' protest—the game will be replayed from 5:50 in the third quarter, which was when Loughery was hit with his third T—but also suspended Powers for five games without pay.
However, Loughery didn't have the last laugh after all. "I wish that the Philadelphia situation had never happened," he says. "Over the season we've shot 230 fewer foul shots than our opponents, and now I'm getting technicals that I can't believe. I'll get one three minutes into a game but I'll see other coaches out on the court, and they don't get anything. Maybe rightfully so. It's probably my history. But every time I get a technical early in the game we shoot 20 or so fewer foul shots and we lose. My technicals have hurt us this season, and that's why I've tried to cool it. But I seem to get one anyway. It's automatic now.
"Everyone would agree that I'm the hardest coach on the officials. Maybe it's not the referees who are at fault," Loughery added after spending a technical-free night on the bench Saturday in Cleveland where the Nets lost their fifth straight, 104-94. "I'll never be a totally sit-down coach, but if it's going to be stand-up coaching then I'll stay off the officials. The team shouldn't have to suffer because of my behavior."