VANCOUVER — It is tempting to conclude that the raging egos of the Los Angeles Lakers’ raft of star players got coach Mike Brown fired five games into their season Friday.
It fits with the accepted wisdom about Kobe Bryant’s self-absorption, not to mention the general sense of the sport’s glitziest team as a veritable circus for gaudy, clashing personalities, runaway salaries and epic petulance.
(Except for our Steve Nash, of course. Good Canadian boy.)
Nobody’s arguing that Brown’s plodding off-season brainchild, the so-called hybrid Princeton offence, wasn’t ill-suited to the Lakers’ high-octane talent. It took about five minutes of the first game to realize that Nash walking the ball up the floor and everyone else standing around going “What?” was not destined to be a boffo hit with the players, or fans.
Then Nash went out with a small fracture in his leg, and the Lakers limped to a 1-4 start and GM Mitch Kupchak decided that an old team getting older every minute had no time to waste.
"We made a decision,” Kupchak said. “Maybe it would have changed a month or three months down the road, but with this team we didn't want to wait three months and then find out it wasn't going to change."
He did note that legendary former Lakers and Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson is currently retired, and possibly available.
But five games, when the Lakers’ supposedly sensational starting five has only actually been on the floor together for, what, a game and a half? Necessitating that the club eat the remaining $11 million of their second-year coach’s four-year contract?
That’s hasty, even by the standards of L.A., where at least the Anaheim Ducks gave Randy Carlyle until Nov. 30 before axing him last season, and the Kings persisted with Terry Murray until Dec. 12 before giving him the heave-ho in favour, eventually, of Darryl Sutter (that didn’t work out so badly.)
Five games? That’s like a CFL coach getting canned six minutes into Game 2 of the regular season.
It may well be an NBA record, though not by much: various news outlets cited Gene Shue’s six-and-out with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1977-78, and only last season, Paul Westphal survived just seven games with Sacramento.
But in sports, it’s not always what you think. Stuff happens.
As far as we can tell, nobody was ousted more swiftly than Bill Gadsby, who was 2-0 to start his second season as coach of the Detroit Red Wings when owner Bruce Norris went over the head of his GM, Sid Abel, and fired the legendary former defenceman on Oct. 16, 1969.
Wonder what the penalty would have been for losing those first two? A public flogging?
The players didn’t get Gadsby fired: it was 41-year-old Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio and that crowd playing for the Wings. NHL prima donnas were not a thing then.
The three-games standard belongs to Fred Glover of the California Golden Seals — they of the Charlie O. Finley white skates — who was dumped in mid-October of 1971, a few months after the Montreal Canadiens had drafted Guy Lafleur with the No. 1 pick they’d acquired from the Seals following the 1970 season.
It is acknowledged to be the all-time worst NHL trade, but Glover didn’t pull the trigger — the Seals’ president at the time was Frank Selke Jr. (conspiracy theorists, have at it), the former Canadiens’ publicist and TV host whose father won five Stanley Cups between 1953-60 as the Habs’ GM.
But Glover was fired, anyway, and then was hired a couple of weeks later by the Kings, who stuck it out to the end of the season with him despite going 18-42-8, thereby depriving him of an NHL coaching record: Most Teams Fired By, Single Season.
(As a post-script, Glover then returned to the Golden Seals as GM/coach after Bill Torrey lasted only a month before clashing with Finley. But that, and Torrey’s subsequent path to greatness with the Islanders, are a whole other story.)
At four games, we have Denis Savard, who was aced in Chicago by Dale Tallon and replaced by Joel Quenneville barely over a week into the 2009-10 season, and before him, Ivan Hlinka, the first European-born and trained NHL coach, also canned four games into the 2001-02 season by the Penguins.
Jacques Demers got five games into the 1995-96 season before both he and GM Serge Savard were axed in Montreal, so that may be the record for the quickest Dismissal Double Play.
It didn’t work out so well for the Habs, who replaced Demers with Mario Tremblay, who clashed with Patrick Roy, who got traded to the Avalanche, who won the Stanley Cup.
In baseball, we know that Cal Ripken Sr. was turfed six games into the Baltimore Orioles’ 1988 season, and Phil Garner was gone after six games with the Detroit Tigers in 2002. Based on a 162-game season, they’d fall in the Fred Glover neighbourhood, percentage-wise, but Gadsby is still, technically, the king.
He is not, however, the king of weird.
That title may forever belong to John Huard — now a successful businessman in the artificial turf trade — who kept being brought into football disasters by old-time CFL executive J.I. Albrecht, and having them end badly.
Albrecht hired Huard to coach the expansion Atlantic Schooners in 1984 ... only the team never got off the ground. A decade later, J.I. brought him back again, this time to coach the expansion Shreveport Pirates.
He had barely completed the first week of training camp when the owner’s son, Lonie Glieberman, later of Ottawa Rough Riders infamy, tied the can to him.
Six years later, Albrecht tried again, hiring Huard to coach the Toronto Argos.
Huard resigned, just ahead of the boot, after going 1-6-1 — the final nail in his coffin being a 51-4 shellacking in the SkyDome by Damon Allen and the B.C. Lions, who would go on to win the Grey Cup under Steve Buratto ... who’d replaced the late Greg Mohns ... who’d bolted in mid-season for the ill-fated XFL.
John Huard’s CFL coaching line? Three hires, one win.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying: as circuses go, the Lakers are only about average.
On Twitter: Twitter.com/rcamcole
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun