Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Flip Secure As Pistons Coach

It was the mid-1960's, the Pistons in their usual state of disarray. They had a young coach, Donnis Butcher, who himself had been a Pistons player only a year prior. So now the team was announcing the hiring of Butcher's new assistant, a former head coach in the NBA named Paul Seymour.

"I guess you could say that I'm more or less the Pistons' ace in the hole," Seymour said into the microphones and cameras, according to Jerry Green's marvelous book, The Detroit Pistons: Capturing A Remarkable Era.

Whoa! An assistant coach saying he's, in effect, out for the head coach's job, should the young head coach stumble, which was predictable?

Wonderful feeling of job security for Mr. Butcher, don't you think?

Sure enough, the Pistons committed enough of the expected pratfalls and crooked shooting and matador defense to get Butcher canned, just a few months after announcing the hiring of the NBA veteran coach Seymour. The thing was, after the end of that 1968-69 season, Seymour had had enough of the Pistons and returned to his liquor business out east.

Back then, Pistons coaches didn't operate with any sense of security. The arangement, under then-owner Fred Zollner, was to hand out two-year contracts. Of course, as former Pistons coach Butch van Breda Kolff (VBK) used to say of contracts, "Hell, you can always quit. And they can fire you, if they want."

There was a lot of quitting and firing amongst Pistons coaches back in the day, VBK included. It wasn't until a little-known 76'ers assistant named Chuck Daly came along, that the Pistons had some stability in the coach's chair.

Flip Saunders, today, must be feeling that kind of security and stability. He was aggressively pursued by Pistons president Joe Dumars after Larry Brown's departure, despite Saunders' relative lack of success in the playoffs with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The team won sixty-four games last season, setting a franchise record. The ending was disappointing, though -- getting spanked in the Conference Finals.

No matter, because this season, Flip Saunders has not one, but two former NBA head coaches on his staff: Dave Cowens, and Terry Porter. Flip must not look at them as the team's aces in the hole, a la Paul Seymour some 38 years ago.

The hiring of one former head coach, let alone two, might cause some feelings of insecurity among certain whistle blowers and chalkboard drawers. The idea of hiring your possible future replacement, making it a little too convenient for your boss to fire you, wouldn't seem to set well with some folks. And with Dumars' recent track record, having gone through four head coaches in five years, how can there be any real feeling of job security?

Ah, but there must be. Saunders recently squashed any talk of being a candidate for the University of Minnesota head coaching job (his son plays on the team, and Flip is a graduate). He hired Cowens and Porter, fearlessly. And the team, after a slow start, seems to be back on track. A weak conference would seem to pave the way toward another return trip to at least the Eastern Finals.

Such feelings of job security haven't been commonplace with the Pistons, even under the Dumars administration, with the exception of Mr. Daly's run here.

Flip must feel happy, content, and safe as Pistons coach. Rarely are all three of those in place for the NBA head coach nowadays. Or ever, when it comes to the Pistons.

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