Stan Van Gundy is the coach of my hometown NBA team (and former employer), the Orlando Magic. He’s gone 76-36 in a little less than a season-and-a-half of work, transforming the team from an afterthought into a serious Eastern Conference contender.
Yet he knows that someday he’ll more than likely be fired.
“You just do your job and when the time comes … someone else will do your job,” he recently told the Orlando Sentinel. “Whenever management thinks they’ve got a better alternative, they should go with that guy. I say that with no qualms.”
Why is Van Gundy so cynical? For starters, he’s already seen six of his NBA coaching counterparts become “involuntarily unemployed” prior to Christmas.
Team owners are demanding instant success, and when it doesn’t happen it’s the coach who often serves as scapegoat. As I write this today, the ax has quickly fallen on three NFL coaches less than 24 hours after the end of the regular season.
Eric Mangini: Despite a 9-7 record, he’s gone as coach of the New York Jets. Unrealistic expectations due to the arrival of an over-the-hill Brett Favre cost him his job.
Rod Marinelli: Fresh off the completion of a perfectly imperfect 0-16 campaign, Marinelli is history in Detroit. We’ve talked about him in the past, and we knew this was coming. Thanks for everything, Matt Millen.
Romeo Crennel: After piloting the ’07 Browns to within an eyelash of the playoffs, it was thought that the pieces were in place for the Brownies to take the next step. But injuries and a horrific defense led to a 4-12 finish, and Crennel is now looking for work.
Meanwhile, the fates of several other coaches are still up in the air. Interim coaches Jim Haslett (Rams), Tom Cable (Raiders) and Mike Singletary (49’ers) are waiting to find out if they’ll be the permanent guy. Wade Phillips could be history in Dallas after their pedestrian effort yesterday. Herm Edwards may be a Kansas City casualty after a 2-14 season and the recent departure of GM and ardent supporter Carl Peterson. Even Dick Jauron of Buffalo may not be safe despite signing a three-year extension mere weeks ago.
Here’s my point: If you don’t have the Van Gundy mindset, you probably should not be a pro sports coach. For every Jerry Sloan at Utah with the NBA’s Jazz (in his 20th season) or Jeff Fisher with the NFL’s Oilers/Titans (13th season), there are hundreds more gone inside of four years. If you’re a pro sports coach, you simply can’t rest on your past accomplishments anymore.
If you do, there will be plenty of time for resting … at home.
Hope everyone is enjoying their holidays as much as I am enjoying mine. We had a great trip to Georgia last week with the wife’s relatives.