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Good Job. You're Fired! Even highly successful coaches have learned that winning doesn't guarantee security

May 03, 2004
May 03, 2004

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May 3, 2004

Good Job. You're Fired! Even highly successful coaches have learned that winning doesn't guarantee security

During his typical 19-hour workday Jeff Bzdelik is a blur of
motion. The second-year coach of the Nuggets starts long before
the sun rises, breaking down tape of Denver's next opponent as
if it's the Zapruder film. He sees his two teenage kids off to
school, then heads to the Pepsi Center, where he runs a
meticulously structured practice and afterward stays to help
players, especially the younger ones, sand the rough edges of
their games. In the afternoon he watches more game tape, holds
meetings with his assistants and accommodates media requests. If
there's time, Bzdelik sneaks in a quick workout. ¶ During games
Bzdelik (buzz-DEL-ick) moves like a windup toy along the
sideline, shouting instructions and often calling out the
opposition's play before it unfolds. He dies a little with each
loss, gets a charge out of each victory and, regardless of the
outcome, looks as exhausted as his players by game's end. If
he's home by midnight, it was an early evening. There is
nothing sedentary about his day. Which makes it all the more
bizarre that he is on the hot seat--a spot he shares with
nearly every coach in the pros these days, no matter how
successful and dedicated he may be.

This is an article from the May 3, 2004 issue

At 51, Bzdelik is one of those guys for whom the squeak of rubber
soles against maplewood forms the soundtrack of his life. For
almost three decades he has followed the bouncing ball from town
to town, climbing the coaching ladder. In his first job out of
college he was an assistant at Davidson making $3,500 a year,
living with his wife, Nina, in a one-bedroom apartment on campus.
A half-dozen moves later, in 2001, he landed in Denver as a
scout. To his surprise, he was named Nuggets coach in August '02,
a three-year, $2.3 million contract his reward for 25 years of
dues paying. After going 17-65 last season (a 10-game drop from
the previous year), he coached the team to 43 wins and its first
playoff berth since 1995. It marked the first time since the NBA
went to an 82-game schedule in 1976 that a team had gone from
winning fewer than 20 games to making the playoffs the next
season.

Yet buzzards are circling. While under the terms of his contract
Bzdelik is guaranteed a one-year extension at $1.5 million for
reaching the postseason, the Nuggets can still pay him off and
fire him--which they may well do if the team fails to advance
past the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round. (At week's
end the Timberwolves led the best-of-seven series 2-1.) Though
general manager Kiki Vandeweghe says all the right things
publicly--offering steady, if tepid, support--sources close to
the G.M. claim that he is less than enamored with Bzdelik's
coaching. When Bzdelik masochistically tunes into sports talk
radio on the drive home, invariably he hears speculation about
which candidate (George Karl? Doc Rivers?) will succeed him. When
he faces the media after games and practices, he knows the
conversation will inevitably veer to his tenuous future.

As he does on any subject, Bzdelik chooses his words with painful
precision. "I try not to think about it," he says. "When they
release me--and it could be in six years or six days--I'll go
knowing I gave an honest day's work. That's all I can do."
Meanwhile, as the regular season wound down Denver's p.r.
department was in the peculiar position of pushing Bzdelik for
coach of the year honors while fielding questions about the
likelihood of his returning next season.

It would be tempting to characterize Bzdelik as an "embattled
coach," but the phrase has lost meaning. All coaches are
embattled. Time was, they were masters and
commanders--indomitable, square-jawed figures with names like
Lombardi, Auerbach, Alston and Bowman--who demanded instant
respect and were granted immunity from office politics. Part
pedagogue, part demagogue, they molded men and championed the
virtues of discipline, pride and accountability.

Today's coach cuts a vastly different figure. Beset by pressure
to win now from ownership, bedeviled by unrealistic expectations
of the media and fans, betrayed by underachieving players with
fat, often guaranteed contracts, the contemporary bench boss is
constantly under siege. As his base of power and job security
steadily erode, the coach has come to resemble a well-paid
temp--a Kelly Girl in Armani--who can take his team to the brink
of a title yet still has to be prepared to clean out his office
whenever the boss's number appears on his caller ID. "One of the
real pillars of the game is being destroyed," says Karl, who was
fired as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks last July. "Coaches are the
leaders and teachers, and when their authority is undermined,
it's bad for sports. It's gotten way out of control."

If that sounds melodramatic, consider the landscape of pro
coaching. Over the past two seasons half of the NFL's 32 teams
have changed coaches. Pro football players might have the
shortest half-lives in sports, but the median length of their
careers, 3 1/2 years, is nearly double that of their coaches.
Eight NHL coaches have been fired since the start of this season,
including the Ottawa Senators' Jacques Martin, who in January had
received a two-year contract extension and at eight-plus seasons
had been the league's longest-serving active coach. In the major
leagues last year Grady Little capably commanded a Boston Red Sox
team that won 95 games and came within--all together now--five
outs of reaching the World Series. Then he brain-cramped in not
pulling Pedro Martinez from Game 7 of the American League
Championship Series. When the Red Sox subsequently chose not to
pick up the option on Little's contract--months of seemingly
unimpeachable managing eclipsed by a single blunder--the move was
met with a collective shrug.

Yet no league dispenses pink slips like the NBA, in which 17 of
29 teams have changed coaches since the end of the 2002-03
season. Among the defenestrated: Byron Scott, who had merely led
the New Jersey Nets to the Finals two years running; Rick
Carlisle, whose two-year tenure with the Detroit Pistons yielded
an abysmal 100-64 record and a pair of division titles; and Paul
Silas, who disgraced himself coaching the Hornets to the playoffs
in each of his last four seasons in Charlotte and then New
Orleans. Against that backdrop Bzdelik ought to be glad he made
it past the All-Star break.

Last summer the Atlanta Hawks' Terry Stotts was so unsure of his
status that he interviewed for other positions; now he's the
longest-tenured Eastern Conference coach, with 17 months on the
job. After having the temerity to leave Allen Iverson out of the
Philadelphia 76ers' starting lineup in March, Chris Ford surely
became the first interim coach to find his job imperiled.

"The line [determining] how a coach is perceived is so thin and
so fluid," says former college basketball coach Fran Fraschilla,
now a TV analyst. "I always go back to what [Houston Rockets
coach] Jeff Van Gundy told me a long time ago: 'Biggest game of
the year. You're down one. You get a good shot. The ball is in
the air. It hangs there. Good coach or bad coach? Good coach or
bad coach? Good coach or bad coach?'"

it is a collision of factors, of course, that has led to the
coach's diminished stature. In interviews with more than two
dozen current and former coaches, almost all complained that the
depressed state of the profession reflects a general erosion of
moral authority. "Why don't teachers get respect anymore? If you
can answer that question, then it answers the question about
coaches," says Ron Wilson of the San Jose Sharks. "Where has
personal accountability gone in a lot of our society?"

The lack of accountability is thrown into particularly sharp
relief in the sports world, where today's athlete, often cosseted
from the time he shows a glimmer of talent, makes more money than
his coach and is flanked by apologists and sycophants. Earlier
this season Bzdelik benched a player for lying to him. That
afternoon he received an irate call from the player's agent. "'He
lied? So what?'" Bzdelik recalls the agent saying. "'What're you,
his dad?'"

All-Star guard Jason Kidd's impersonation of Judas doomed Scott
in New Jersey. When Oakland Raiders players turned on coach Bill
Callahan last season, his fate was sealed. In a particularly
galling case, in 2001 Dan Miceli, a journeyman reliever then with
the Florida Marlins, openly maligned the "stupid moves" of
manager Jon Boles and chided Boles for lacking major league
playing experience. Less than 24 hours later, Boles was out of a
job. Coaches can't help but be hip to the realpolitik. Lest he
bruise the players' feelings, first-year coach Kevin O'Neill--a
serial screamer when he ran college programs--kept it low key
when he addressed his Toronto Raptors, and after particularly
demoralizing losses often stayed away from them entirely. His
plan for self-preservation didn't work, however; he was fired on
April 16 after going 33-49. O'Neill's downfall: going off on his
players at an end-of-season meeting during which he questioned
their commitment to winning.

Even the semantics reflect this shift. Last month Nuggets star
rookie Carmelo Anthony ignored Bzdelik's instruction to re-enter
a game. In another era Anthony would have been roundly criticized
for his insubordination, deemed "a malcontent," or worse, "a
cancer." Instead, there were murmurs that Bzdelik had "lost the
team." Anthony, to his credit, apologized profusely, but the
incident damaged the coach far more than the player. "Look at
Larry Brown and Iverson," former Boston Celtics coach and team
president Red Auerbach says of Brown's questioning the star
player's practice habits. "Larry got sick of putting up with that
s---. But he could get another job. A lot of guys can't."

The changing nature of sports franchise ownership has also worked
to the detriment of coaches. Some 40 years ago the majority of
owners were individuals or families who derived the lion's share
of their income from their sports property. The Halas family in
Chicago and the O'Malleys in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, for
instance, were keenly attuned to their teams' rhythms and
understood the virtues of stability and patience. Most teams
today are owned by multinational corporations or moguls who made
their fortunes elsewhere. One effect: The new bosses tend to
treat the franchises like they would any other business. They set
targets and goals, some more realistic than others, that favor
instant gratification over growth. After a team like the St.
Louis Rams wins the Super Bowl one year after finishing 4-12, or
a club like the Marlins wins the World Series a year after going
79-83, rival owners turn to their general managers and coaches
asking, Why can't my team do that? Just as managers in corporate
America can face dire consequences for failing to meet quarterly
goals, coaches whose teams underperform are well-advised to keep
their resumes up to date.

"For the most part, new ownership has shown an absolute
impatience as to what it takes to really build, step by step,"
says Pat Riley, who resigned last October as coach of the Miami
Heat but remained as president. "Coaches who are now in their 50s
and 60s had long and productive careers because they were given
the opportunity by a sane management to build the right way."
Management contends that because of free agency and salary-cap
restrictions, it doesn't have the luxury of long-term planning.
And when a faltering team needs a change and the players are
locked into high-priced contracts, the choice to unload players
or fire the coach is really no choice at all.

As ticket prices climb to ever more ridiculous heights, ownership
has to pay greater heed to the voice of the fans. The beer-fueled
fire-the-coach chants, the rants on sports talk radio and the
calls for action on Internet message boards are no longer so
breezily dismissed in the owners' suites. When the hatchet falls
on a coach, the replacement is invariably hailed as a turnaround
artist who will perform CPR on a moribund team. In truth there
are very few of them with proven track records--Bill Parcells and
Larry Brown stand out--and there is little empirical evidence to
suggest that a coaching change improves a team. But the message
to the fans that management cares is often enough to justify the
change. "It's a lot about customer satisfaction," says Scott
Rosner, a legal studies lecturer at the Wharton School who
follows the sports industry. "Owners are increasingly willing to
listen to [fans'] complaints, including those about the coach."

if coaches have megalomaniac tendencies to begin with, the
current climate has the equivalent effect of plying pyromaniacs
with Bic lighters. As sleep-deprived as new parents, coaches
today come equipped with dual airbags under their eyes and tend
to swig a tanker's worth of caffeine before the rest of us wake
up. Among his colleagues, Bzdelik has a fairly typical schedule.
"The minimum that guys work [during the season]--and I'm not
exaggerating--is 18 hours a day, seven days a week," says Lonnie
Cooper, an agent for 13 current or recently fired NBA coaches.
Even the precious few hours of sleep don't always provide escape
from the job. "I'm thinking about line combinations, matchups [in
my sleep]," says Detroit Red Wings coach Dave Lewis. "Sick, isn't
it?"

The jam-packed days, compounded by nonstop travel and the
shrinking off-season, leave little time for coaches to spend with
their families--wives and children they're often forced to uproot
every few years. In fact some of a coach's most innovative
strategizing entails sneaking in time with the kids. Indianapolis
Colts coach Tony Dungy, the former Buccaneers coach who decided
with his wife to limit the disruption in their children's lives
by keeping the family home in Tampa after he changed jobs, brings
his sons to training camp, where they share a room with him for
several weeks. When they were younger, the sons of Marlins
manager Jack McKeon served as batboys for whichever team he
skippered. Brian Billick's family stays with him in a suite at
the team hotel on the eve of Baltimore Ravens home games. And
still.... "You're home, but you're not at home," says Seattle
SuperSonics coach Nate McMillan. "You're there, but your mind is
with the team."

So what is there exactly to like about the job? One NBA coach
ponders the question and then smiles. "The first and the 15th of
the month," he says. Fair point. If the life span of coaches has
dropped precipitously, salaries have gone up just as
dramatically. The median salary for NBA and NFL coaches hovers
around $3 million, while major league managers and NHL coaches
make slightly less. Even top NFL coordinators command more than
$1 million a year, and NBA assistants routinely earn high
six-figure salaries. What's more, rare is the fired coach who is
out of the game for long. There may be no second acts in life,
but in coaching there are often second, third, fourth, fifth,
sixth and--in the case of New York Knicks coach Lenny
Wilkens--seventh acts. That even the most vilified coach (think
Tim Floyd, formerly of the Chicago Bulls) will reappear (as
Silas's successor in New Orleans) only adds to the absurdity.
"They're so lousy they deserve to get fired midseason, but
they're so good another team wants them right away," says
Auerbach with his familiar chuckle. "It's out of whack." Even as
he twists, Bzdelik takes some comfort knowing that if he gets
canned, the odds are good he won't go unemployed for long.

This ability to reenter the labor force is a good thing: The job
may be fraught with more challenges and less security than ever,
but to a man, fired coaches ache to get back in the game. Last
month Joel Quenneville, fired in February as coach of a St. Louis
Blues team that was 29-23-7-2 at the time, did some work as a
television analyst. After the first period he plopped down his
headset and asked his partner, "When can I get back to coaching?"
Midway through a recent rant on the woes of his profession, Karl
stopped himself and said, "I feel a little hypocritical, because
the truth is, if the right offer came, I'd get back in tomorrow."

There's something addictive about the job. It's matching wits
against a counterpart. It's watching the marginal player
effectively deploy that drop step he's rehearsed for hours after
practices. It's taking disparate parts and melding them into a
symphonic whole. It's the comfort in the routine, the feeding of
the ego ... the paycheck twice a month. Ask Riley what he misses
about the job he quit last fall and he sounds like Robert Duvall
in Apocalypse Now wistfully describing the smell of napalm in the
morning. "You walk out to the middle of the [practice] floor, and
you say the three greatest words that any coach will ever say,
which are, 'Bring it in.' And they come in, and you start the
whole process again."

For all the ambient turmoil, Bzdelik and the rest of the
bleary-eyed lifers will soldier on, undeterred by the office
politics, the antsy owners, the culture that no longer receives
the respect that it once did. They've just come to view their
calling a little differently. "There used to be a saying about
coaching: It beats a real job," Bzdelik says with a wry smile.
"You don't hear that much anymore. Man, this is a real job."

COLOR PHOTO: JEFF ZELEVANSKY/ICON SMI BYRON SCOTT NEW JERSEY NETS Fired in January after taking the Nets to the NBA Finals the previous two seasons.COLOR PHOTO: ANDRE RINGUETTE/FREESTYLE/OSHC JACQUES MARTIN OTTAWA SENATORS Fired last week after going 341-255-96 in eight-plus seasons with the NHL club.COLOR PHOTO: TOM GANNAM/AP TONY DUNGY TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS Fired in January 2002 after leading the Bucs to the playoffs in four of his last five years.COLOR PHOTO: JIM MONE/AP (BACKGROUND ALTERED BY SI IMAGING) GRADY LITTLE BOSTON RED SOX Option not picked up last year after the Sox got within five outs of the World Series.COLOR PHOTO: JEFF HAYNES/AFP/GETTY IMAGES (MARIUCCI)COLOR PHOTO: JULIE JACOBSON/APCOLOR PHOTO: ICON SMI IN LIMBO Bzdelik got an extension for getting Denver into the playoffs, but his status for next season is uncertain.COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT ROVAK (QUENNEVILLE)COLOR PHOTO: BRENT SMITH/REUTERSCOLOR PHOTO: TODD BIGELOW/AURORA POWER PLAY LaMonte makes sure his clients are ready for all aspects of their interviews.COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN BAHR/GETTY IMAGES RED-FACED Solich won 75% of his games in six seasons with the Cornhuskers, but that wasn't good enough for the folks at Nebraska.COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO SURVIVOR Saunders was still looking to win a playoff series at week's end, yet he has been with the Timberwolves for nine years.

NFL
Teams changing coaches since the end of the 2001 season: 16 of 32
NOTABLE MOVE: STEVE MARIUCCI, 49ers
Falling out of favor for what was perceived as a passive
approach, he was canned three days after a playoff loss in early
2003. Still, in six years he was 57-39 and went to the playoffs
four times. He was snapped up by the Lions.

MLB
Teams changing managers since the end of the 2001 season: 21 of 30
NOTABLE MOVE: DUSTY BAKER, Giants
In November 2002, after leading the club to within a win of its
first World Series crown since 1954, the three-time NL Manager of
the Year left over differences with ownership. Last season he
guided the Cubs to a division title.

NHL
Teams changing coaches since the end of the 2001 season: 20 of 30
NOTABLE MOVE: JOEL QUENNEVILLE, Blues
At 29-23-7-2, his team was seen as underachieving when he was
fired on Feb. 25. Yet he had a 307-209-77 record in seven-plus
seasons with St. Louis, never finished below .500 and was the
NHL's Coach of the Year in 1999-2000.

NBA
Teams changing coaches since the end of the 2001 season: 21 of 29
NOTABLE MOVE: RICK CARLISLE, Pistons
He won 50 games in each of his two seasons in Detroit, only to be
fired last May to make way for Larry Brown. Carlisle was
subsequently hired by the Pacers, who this season won an NBA-high
and franchise-record 61 games.

THE MATCHMAKER
Agent Bob Lamonte represents NFL coaches on the rise

In his previous life as a teacher at Santa Teresa High in San
Jose, Bob LaMonte took a special interest in diplomatic history.
Fascinated by how leaders obtain and retain power, he would
always include readings of Machiavelli on his syllabus. In the
late 1970s he and a colleague, Mike Holmgren, would meet for
lunch, and when LaMonte wasn't holding forth on the principles of
empire building, the two men, who were also assistant football
coaches, discussed blocking schemes. One afternoon Holmgren
arrived looking anguished. "I have the chance to be a coordinator
at San Francisco State," he said. "Should I take it?" LaMonte
replied, "Go for it." Then he posed a question of his own to
Holmgren. A former student was preparing for the NFL draft and
had asked LaMonte to represent him. Should he try to be an agent?
"Bob," Holmgren said, "I think you'd be great."

A quarter century later Holmgren is coach and executive vice
president of football operations for the Seattle Seahawks, after
having won Super Bowl XXXI as coach of the Green Bay Packers. As
for LaMonte, he has carved out a princely niche: agent to young
coaches on the make. His clients include Holmgren, Jon Gruden of
the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles,
John Fox of the Carolina Panthers, Mike Sherman of the Packers
and Jim Mora Jr. of the Atlanta Falcons as well as 12
coordinators and four general managers. "I consider Bob to be a
very important power player but also a very productive one," says
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. "In virtually every situation he's
working with the team on behalf of his client, not against it.
That gives a whole different meaning to the term power broker."

In six of the past seven years at least one of LaMonte's charges
has been promoted to his first head job in the pros. After a
client is granted an interview, LaMonte puts him through a
vigorous preparation process, arming him with a thick
three-ringed binder that covers topics from media relations to
financial planning to ownership. "The key letters aren't X and O,
they're CEO," says LaMonte, 59. "[Ownership] knows you know
football, so why waste time with that? You have two to five hours
to show them you can run an organization." Time and again,
LaMonte's clients--Reid, Sherman and Fox, to name three--have
started the job search as little-known candidates and then won
over management during interviews. "I tried to develop a picture
of the entire team and the entire operation," recalls Reid, who
has more wins than any other coach since the start of the 2000
season.

Once his clients are hired, LaMonte works to expand their spheres
of influence. In 2001 LaMonte negotiated a deal in which Reid
took over as the Eagles' executive VP of football operations,
joining Holmgren and Sherman as LaMonte coaching clients who also
have control over personnel decisions. LaMonte insists that in a
perfect world, coaches and general managers can coexist--"What
Mike [Holmgren] and Ron Wolf had in Green Bay was ideal," he
says--but he won't apologize for helping his coaches amass power.
"If you're driving the race car at 220 mph, you want to know
who's changing the oil," he says. "In the NFL, having no control
is death."

If LaMonte's tactics don't fit the agent profession's blustery
stereotype, neither does his lifestyle. His unassuming offices
are in Reno, and the company's only other full-time employee is
his wife, Lynn. Reflexively self-effacing, he rarely gives
interviews and scoffs at the suggestion that he is a major player
in the NFL. "We're putting a pretty dress on a pretty girl," he
says. "But if she gets to be prom queen--if our guys become
successful NFL head coaches--we've done our jobs."
--L.J.W.

AT WHAT PRICE, VICTORY?
The buildup of pressure on college coaches has led to scandal and
distaste for the job

They were, in effect, tenured faculty. Twenty years ago college
coaches may not have earned the big bucks like their colleagues
in the pros, but their job security was nearly ironclad. They
lived stress-free lives on leafy campuses and had plenty of
opportunity to teach, presumably the reason they got into the
profession. Plus, they could take advantage of the best perk of
academia: summer vacation. Recalls John Wooden, UCLA's basketball
coach from 1948 through '75, "It was a very nice way to earn a
living."

He'd be less inclined to think so today. As college sports have
moved to a level of intensity and high finance that rivals pro
sports, Division I coaches assert that they are under as much
pressure as their NBA or NFL counterparts. They may not have to
contend with multimillionaire athletes, meddling owners and
interminable road trips, but the presence of seamy agents,
overzealous boosters and players itching to turn pro early can
leave them feeling just as besieged. The recent parade of
high-profile scandals has shown just how dirty a business college
sports can be--and just how easy it is for coaches to get sucked
into the miasma. "People look at the coaching profession as
something less than honorable," says South Carolina basketball
coach Dave Odom, who has been in the college game for 28 years.
"That bothers me."

The higher stakes have changed the day-to-day job description.
Time once devoted to inculcating players on the finer points of
blocking techniques is now spent recruiting players or courting
deep-pocketed alumni. Due in no small part to the proliferation
of summer leagues and camps, coaching has become a
12-month-a-year job. Indiana basketball coach Mike Davis marvels
that his predecessor, Bob Knight, was able to take exotic hunting
and fishing trips over the summer. "I take a long weekend," says
Davis, "and come back to hundreds of voice mails and e-mails and
crises." Davis is also an exemplar for how coaches are affected
by the phenomenon of players jumping from high school to the NBA.
He thought he had scored a coup last year when he coaxed a
commitment from forward Josh Smith of Oak Hill Academy in Mouth
of Wilson, Va. It was so much fool's gold when Smith announced
last week that he would enter the NBA draft.

Interestingly, the majority of college coaches interviewed by SI
also cited the Internet as a source of intense pressure.
Especially on wired campuses filled with tech-savvy students,
message boards and fan sites give legs to preposterous rumors and
vicious--albeit anonymous--personal attacks. (Check out
www.firemikedavis.com.) "I would love it if Woody Hayes came back
for one week, just to see how he would respond to message
boards," says Jack Harbaugh, the former Western Kentucky football
coach who is now an associate athletic director at Marquette.

But at least as the pressure has increased, so too have salaries.
In many states the highest-paid public employee is the football
or basketball coach at State U--and that doesn't include the
supplemental income from sneaker contracts, television shows and
summer camps. But, as in the pros, bloated expectations ride in
tandem with bloated salaries. Consider that Nebraska fired
football coach Frank Solich with two years left on his $1.1
million-a-year job after he went 58-19 in six seasons. "The
salaries," says Stanford football coach Buddy Teevens, "are
justification for termination."

Put it together, and a clear profile emerges: College coaches are
getting more pay and less job satisfaction. Says Fran Fraschilla,
a former college basketball coach and now a TV analyst, "I'll
tell you what a good friend of mine who is a very successful
Division I basketball coach told me: 'I love coaching, but I
don't love the coaching profession.' I believe a lot of coaches
feel that way." --L.J.W.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Minneapolis and Washington top SI's short lists of best and worst
cities in which to coach

BEST PLACES TO COACH

MINNEAPOLIS

Never mind that Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders has been on the
job since 1995 and at week's end was still trying to win his
first NBA playoff series. Or that Tom Kelly finished a total of
104 games under .500 in his 16 years as manager of the Twins, 10
losing seasons sprinkled among the two World Series titles. You
wanna know from nice? While coach of the Vikings, Dennis Green
threatened to sue the team's owners if they didn't sell to
him--this from a man who won just four of 12 playoff games. For
that he lasted 10 seasons in Minneapolis.

PITTSBURGH

Rust Belt reverence for an honest effort extends to the city's
sports franchises. Despite 17 losing seasons since 1977, the
Pirates have hired just four managers during that span. The
Steelers, meanwhile, have employed two coaches--Chuck Noll and
Bill Cowher--in 35 years. Cowher's teams have missed the playoffs
four of the last six seasons, but you won't hear an outcry for
change. "I guess it's still a place where people are patient,"
Cowher said recently, "and hard work is appreciated." (That said,
you wouldn't consign your worst enemy to coach the cash-strapped,
talent-challenged Penguins.)

DALLAS

You could do worse than coach in a Sun Belt market where the fans
are, at once, passionate and laid-back. Tom Hicks (Rangers and
Stars), Jerry Jones (Cowboys) and Mark Cuban (Mavericks) are not
exactly absentee owners, but their pockets run deep. Worth
noting: For all his meddling, Cuban has stuck with coach Don
Nelson--through Sunday anyway--since taking over the team in
2000.

WORST PLACES TO COACH

WASHINGTON

Even in a city of transient politicians, coaches have some of the
shortest terms in town. The Redskins, Capitals and Wizards have
all undergone regime changes in the past year. The owners of the
three franchises--arriviste Dan Snyder, Internet mogul Ted
Leonsis and patrician Abe Pollin, respectively--cut a wide swath
but are equally impatient. For good measure, weeks after giving
him a public vote of confidence, Georgetown officials recently
canned basketball coach Craig Esherick, while he was on a
recruiting trip.

ATLANTA

Under new ownership, the Hawks and the Thrashers are likely to
make coaching changes this summer. The Falcons fired Dan Reeves
late last season, not long after franchise quarterback Michael
Vick returned from a broken leg that sidelined him for the first
11 games. True, it seems as if Braves skipper Bobby Cox has been
in town since the days of James Oglethorpe (20 years, if you're
counting), but a team that has won 12 consecutive division titles
can't even consistently sell out Turner Field in the postseason.

NEW YORK

Forget what Frank sang. You can't make it there. Meddling
corporate ownership + Steinbrenner + astronomical ticket prices +
bloodthirsty media = coaches' boneyard. Two years after taking
the Mets to the 2000 World Series, Bobby Valentine was canned.
Two years after leading the Giants to the Super Bowl, Jim Fassel
was out. Before Joe Torre's ongoing nine-year run, the Yankees
changed managers 19 times in 22 years. It only figures that Glen
Sather would fire himself as Rangers coach. --L.J.W
[BOX]

More from L. Jon Wertheim, including his Inside Tennis column and
Mailbag, at si.com.