Thursday, July 21, 2005

Brown's Departure From Pistons Messy, But So Were These

In the movie "Cocktail," there's an interesting little scene where Tom Cruise's character, Brian Flanagan, has a rather messy and dramatic breakup with his older woman/fling that ends up with the woman slapping him in the face. She regrets the slap, then pleads with him, saying, "I don't want this to end badly."

"Everything ends badly," Cruise/Flanagan says, "or else it wouldn't end."

I thought about that scene as I watched this whole Larry Brown/Pistons split go down the last couple of days. As ar as coaching departures go, I've seen smoother, for sure. But then I got to thinking about other partings of the ways of Detroit sports coaches over the years, and I realized there have been some dandies around these parts. So let's turn on the time machine, shall we, and I'll take you on a little tour of the theater of the absurd....

1973: Red Wings Fire Coach Ted Garvin

This may be one of the most bizarre endings to any coaching stint anywhere, bar none.

In November 1973, the Red Wings were stumbling through the National Hockey League, as was their wont in the 70's. The team just wasn't responding to new coach Ted Garvin, promoted from their minor league affiliate. The record was something like 2-9-2, or some such nonsense. Anyhow, the team had intended to fire Garvin and replace him with team captain Alex Delvecchio. Well, to say that the transition didn't go smoothly would be one heck of an understatement. Garvin was informed of the move in the afternoon. However, since Delvecchio had not retired as a player officially, he was ineligible to coach that night's game at Olympia, according to league rules, which the Red Wings had neglected to review before telling Garvin he'd been canned. So, believe it or not, the team asked Garvin to coach that night even though he'd been fired, so Delvecchio could get his retirement papers together.

With about seven minutes to go in the third period of a loss to the Flyers, Garvin decided he'd had enough and walked away from the bench, with the game still going on. He informed Tim Ecclestone, an injured forward in street clothes, of his decision as he headed down the runway. Ecclestone coached the last several minutes as Garvin hurried out of Olympia, never to be heard from again. And you know what's really bizarre? The loss was officially put on Delvecchio's coaching record, even though he neither played nor coached that night!

Tigers Fire Billy Martin

Okay, so firing Billy Martin shouldn't be considered unusual or strange, but the circumstances were a bit different, even for Billy. After leading the Tigers to the 1972 AL East pennant, the manic Martin began acting like, well, Martin, publicly complaining that the Orioles seemed to have all the good young talent and the Tigers didn't. Then, Martin responded angrily to his belief that Gaylord Perry was throwing spitballs at his team in August, so he ordered two of this pitchers to throw spitters as well. Of course, Billy got caught, and the league suspended him. But before the suspension was lifted, Tigers GM Jim Campbell fired his manager, clearly tired of the sideshow that was Billy Martin. So, less than a year after being heralded as a manging genius for guiding the aging Tigers to within a couple of runs of the World Series, Martin was out in a blaze of inglory.

Joe Schmidt Quits The Lions

To this day, no man has led the Lions to an overall winning record as a head coach in the Bill Ford era of ownership except for one -- Joe Schmidt. In January, 1973, with a mark of 43-34-7 as Lions coach from 1967-72, Schmidt began having disagreements with team GM Russ Thomas. It became a power struggle, and Schmidt unwisely decided to take the conflict to Ford, figuring the owner would take his side, because of Schmidt's winning record and the fact that Thomas may have been, at the time, the most hated man in Detroit sports by the fans. But Ford and Thomas had history, so the owner backed his GM. Enraged and disgusted, Schmidt quit, on the spot. He never really has been in touch with the team in any official capacity since. Sad, considering he was the best defensive player the franchise has ever had.

Wayne Fontes Gets The Axe

I'm including this one because of the bizarre scene that occurred at the press conference announcing Fontes' firing. As Ford was addressing the reporters, Fontes appeared, totally unexpectedly, and threw his arms around Ford and thanked the owner sloppily. Then, as the stunned Ford looked on and politely smiled, Fontes hammed it up for the writers, yelling with feigned shock, "Fired?! What do you mean I'm fired?", then chuckling. It was a strange and disconcerting scene. But then again, as with Billy Martin, did you really expect anything else from Wayne Fontes?

Tigers Fire Les Moss

Poor Les Moss. All he wanted to do was manage in the big leagues, and he had gotten that opportunity in 1979, replacing the retired Ralph Houk with the Tigers. After a slow start, the Tigers got hot, and had just finished a successful West Coast trip in June when Jim Campbell found out that ex-Reds skipper Sparky Anderson was close to agreeing to manage the Cubs in 1980. Moving quickly, and figuring he'd never have a chance to hire someone with Sparky's credentials again, Campbell reached an agreement with Anderson. Then, in what he called a very difficult thing to do, Campbell fired Moss and announced Sparky Anderson as the new Tigers manager. As for Les Moss, talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was Moss' only managing job in the majors.

Red Wings Demote Bryan Murray

This one is here because of what happened afterward.

The Red Wings were having trouble in the postseason under Murray, who held dual roles as coach and GM. So after another disappointment, a first round knockout at the hands of the Maple Leafs in 1993, the team decided to strip Murray of his coaching duties, hiring Scotty Bowman to replace him behind the bench. But the Murray-as-GM and Bowman-as-coach arrangement was dicey, to say the least. Scotty largely ignored Murray and his title, and the team was soon split into two factions: that which confided in Bowman, and that which aired its gripes about Bowman to Murray. The tension was thick around Joe Louis Arena all season, which ended with another first round blowout, this time to the fledgling San Jose Sharks. Losing the power struggle, Murray was cut loose in summer, 1994, and Bowman then took on the dual role of coach and GM.

Lions Fire Marty Mornhinweg

To say that Lions president Matt Millen could have handled this situation better is like saying Lizzie Borden could have handled her hacking instruments more responsibly.

After a 3-13 season in 2002, Millen went out of his way to announce publicly that Mornhinweg would return as Lions coach in 2003. That was on New Year's Eve, 2002. Then, about two weeks later, the 49'ers fired coach Steve Mariucci. things weren't like they were 14 days prior. So Millen acted swiftly, entering into poorly-guarded talks with Mariucci about his becoming the next Lions coach, even though Mornhinweg was still employed by the Lions, the possessor of a still-fresh Matt Millen vote of confidence. Naturally, the Lions hired Mooch, and then Millen informed Marty that his time as Lions coach was over. Not the best way to go about this scenario, for all you aspiring sports team presidents out there.


There you have them -- some of the most uncommon dismissals/resignations involving coaches of the teams around town. Where does the Larry Brown fiasco rank among them, in your mind? Let me know -- post a comment or email me at See ya!

1 comment:

dolphinfan said...

Good stuff! I thought the entire Brown sitaution was a result of Brown's "grass is greener on the other side" mentality, the the more I hear it was more of a front office decision. For what ever reason Brown and the front office could not coexist and now we will see if it was the players or the coach who turned Detroit into a Championship team.