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by Mike Fisher    Wed, May 7, 2008, 08:55 am
   The assumption exists. “That Crazy Cuban’’ acknowledges it. The media giggles at it. Some Mavs fans, making statements like this one – “Damn, it’s hard for us to keep a good coach around here under this owner’’ -- feel burdened by it.

   Is it true? Are successful coaches working in Dallas under Mark Cuban doomed to a uniquely too-short shelf life?


   We all know how successful Avery Johnson was in his four years. A 194-70 record, four straight playoff appearances and an NBA Finals berth. And then, just as with Don Nelson, he gets a boot in his ass. Both of them “forced into a divorce’’ by Cuban. Both in such a short time! Prematurely. Unfairly. Foolishly.



   This is unique, right?

   My long-held theory, based on my education At The Feet of Jimmy Jenius, is that a four- or five-year run for a coach is a good run. And a long-enough run. That’s the case, according to my thesis, no matter how successful the coach is; in fact, the concept might be more applicable because of the pressures and expectations that shadow success.

    (Applicable sidebar: Jimmy’s head-coaching history. …






Oklahoma State
(head coach)
University of Miami
(head coach)
Dallas Cowboys
(head coach)
Miami Dolphins
(head coach)


   OSU five years. Miami five years. Dallas five years, Miami four years. Now, hate Jerry or any other owner or booster or school president all you want.  The smartest, most successful, “best’’ coach we’ve had in these parts since The Man In The Hat believes in five, five, five and four. You think that’s coincidence?)

   Nellie got five years. Avery got four years. Rick Carlisle -- the man learned last Friday would be Dallas' next coach -- will, you can bet, get no more than four or five years. The conventional wisdom is that it is Cuban’s presence, involvement, demands, “meddling,’’ desire to Dance With Stars. … whatever. … that forces “premature’’ splits.

   To test my thesis against conventional wisdom, let’s examine the collection of recently dismissed NBA coaches. Actually, let’s keep it narrow, with a lean toward “conventional wisdom’’; let’s examine the collection of recently dismissed NBA coaches who, like Avery and Nellie, can easily be characterized as “successful’’ coaches and/or “great’’ coaches.

·         June 2006: The Knicks part ways with Larry Brown. Brown is 1,010-800 in 23 seasons as an NBA coach and is just a season removed from an NBA title in Detroit. Length of service in NY? One season.

·         December 2006: The Grizzlies fire Mike Fratello. Memphis is 89-61 in his first two seasons and he guides the Grizzles to two playoff berths. Fratello’s career coaching record is 666-542. Length of service in Memphis? Two years and two months.

·         December 2006: The Heat forces the resignation of Stan Van Gundy. Miami is 101-63 in his first two seasons, which include an ECF berth and a 59-win season. The team he is forced to surrender eventually wins the NBA title. Length of service in Miami? Two years and two months.

·         May 2006: The Kings do not renew the contract of Rick Adelman. Adelman’s career record is 807-508. He goes 55-27 in his final season while making the playoffs, as he did for all of his eight years, which also includes a WCF appearance. Length of service in Sacramento? Eight years.  

·         April 2007: The Pacers fire Rick Carlisle. Indiana is 181-147 under Carlisle. In his first season he wins 61 for the best record in the NBA, and takes his team to the ECF. He qualifies for the playoffs in each of his first three seasons. Length of service in Indiana? Four years.

·         May 2007 The Rockets fire Jeff Van Gundy. Houston is 182-146 under Van Gundy, including 52-30 in his final season, and made three postseason appearances. Van Gundy's career coaching record is 430-318. Length of service in Houston? Four years.

·         December 2007: The Bulls dismiss Scott Skiles. Chicago is 281-251 under Skiles, including three straight playoff appearances. Length of service in Chicago? Four years and two months.

·         April 2008: The Mavs dismiss Avery Johnson. Dallas is 194-70 under Johnson, including 51-31 in his final season, plus a 67-win year, four playoff seasons and an NBA Finals berth. Length of service in Dallas? Four years.

·         April 2008: The Suns are expected to part ways with Mike D’Antoni. Phoenix is 267-172 under D’Antoni, including a record of 55-27 this year, four playoff appearances and two WCF berths. Length of service in Phoenix? Five years.

   And there you have it. A pretty solid cross section of “successful’’ or “great’’ coaches, all s-canned in the last two years. No Larry Krystkowiaks or Sam Vincents in there to queer the study. And what do we have?

    Larry Brown, Mike Fratello, Stan Van Gundy, Rick Adelman, Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Carlisle, Scott Skiles, Avery Johnson and Mike D’Antoni.  Lots of 50- and 60-win seasons, lots of conference finals appearances, lots of consistent excellence.

   And the average shelf life for this group of elite winners? The nine coaches’ combined years of service, divided by nine? You guessed it: Four seasons.

  There are various circumstances to each of these situations. The vagabond Brown was a terrible fit in his hometown of New York. Fratello’s third season soured when Pau Gasol got hurt. Stan Van Gundy got hosed when his boss Pat Riley decided he’d like to slide downstairs and oversee a team with the look of a champ. Adelman was outstanding for a long time, but never quite got over the top. Jeff Van Gundy’s departure was so odd that the Rockets were firing him while at the same time saying maybe he could stay. Carlisle’s team went thug. Skiles has a story. D’Antoni has a story.

    Now Avery has a story.

    None of the aforementioned men are coaches without merit, obviously. None of them are necessarily bad people. All of them, like Avery, can say “We can hold our heads high for what we accomplished.’’

    They hold their heads high. And then they get them chopped off. Pretty much all of them. Del Harris got fired by the Lakers in ’99 after winning 61 games! Rick Carlisle will get fired in 20___ … what, 2011 or 2012 or 2013? … almost no matter what he does!

    That’s not about Dallas. That’s not about the Mavericks. That’s not about “That Crazy Cuban.’’  (The reference comes from inside the Triangle of Trust itself, speaking to Cuban's willingness to take PR bullets for others.) Indeed, Cuban has actually changed coaches far less often that the rest of the NBA.

    All the stories are unique.

    But a successful NBA coach’s expiration date coming about four years after his hiring?

   Nothing unique at all.

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Comments (2)add comment
written by Jonathan Green , May 07, 2008

As a die hard Mavs Fan, I support what Mark is doing, Mark spends big money to showcase good supporting talent around Dirk, and give the fans good entertainment. When you measure the results, the positives outweigh the negatives. What is it 8 season in a row winning over 50 games? Great Accomplishment. In this business, its results driven, and by that I mean championships! Avery talk the talk but could not walk the walk. In major playoff contests he was clearly out coached, by Pat Riley, Don Nelson, and Hornets Coach Byron Scott. Mark, the hell with these haters, get someone in here that can get us to a Championship, that is the bottom line in this business.

written by john k. , May 07, 2008

How can someone with a billion dollars run someone off? Mark is also a showman and he must have the best. He went to school at Indiana and became infatuated with basketball so why not try Bobby Knight. He's available. john k.


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