NEW YORK -- Looking for coaching security? Not in the National Basketball Association. Lose and you are out. Stay on the job long enough and there is burnout.
The dismissal of Doug Moe by the Denver Nuggets after 10 seasons, Pat Riley's leaving the Los Angeles Lakers after nine seasons and Mike Fratello's calling it quits with the Atlanta Hawks after seven, has left this season's 27 survivors with an average of less than two years as head coaches with their present teams.
Chuck Daly of the Detroit Pistons, in his ninth season, and Lenny Wilkens, starting his fifth with the Cleveland Cavaliers, are now the elder statesmen.
None of the other coaches has been on the job more than three seasons. Six are in their first season and eight others in their second season. Of those, Richie Adubato of the Dallas Mavericks, Gene Littles of the Charlotte Hornets and Dick Motta of the Sacramento Kings, were hired last year in midseason as replacements for dismissed coaches. And 18 had been head coaches with other teams.
Since the Mavericks came into the NBA as an expansion team for the 1980-81 season, only five franchises have gone through the entire decade without making a midseason coaching change. Discounting the four expansion teams admitted the last two seasons, every franchise has changed coaches at least once in midseason with the exception of Boston, Detroit, Houston, Milwaukee and Seattle.
Why the constant changes?
"Although there has always been the pressure to win," said Red Auerbach, president of the Boston Celtics, "the ownership has changed. A lot of the owners feel that if you don't win, you have to change coaches to sell tickets."
Auerbach, who was involved in the off-season dismissal of Jimmy Rodgers and the hiring of Chris Ford as his replacement, also blamed coaching burnout for the turnovers.
"The longer one coaches," Auerbach said, "the easier it becomes for him to experience burnout or be fired. Some coaches like Dick Motta and Gene Shue went away for a few years and then came back. I remember a couple of years ago when Don Nelson experiencing burnout talked about quitting and moving to the front office. When he finally left Milwaukee, he worked in the Golden State front office but went back to coaching the Warriors. Some guys just need to coach."
Stan Kasten, the president of the Hawks, also involved in an off-season coaching change, blamed the high turnover rate on tension.
"Coaches get stale after a couple of years," Kasten said. "Unlike college coaching where new players come and go, some NBA players stay around 10-12 years. With pro basketball being such a high-pressured game, tensions build and eat away at the best of relationships. Sometimes it's easier to get rid of a coach than a player."
Adubato, who coached the Pistons for 70 games in 1980 and was an assistant with the Hawks, the Knicks and the Mavericks, before becoming the Dallas coach, blamed the turnover on fan expectations.
"The fans demand you win every night, and that puts a lot of pressure on coaches," Adubato said. "They build their expectations high and fail to take injuries when they happen into consideration."
But then there are the Kevin Lougherys of the NBA. After being dismissed by four teams, Loughery is back as an assistant coach for the Hawks after being a television commentator.
"Once you have coached," said Kasten, explaining Loughery's return, "that's all you ever want to do. A good way is as an assistant coach. The money may not be as big but the thrills of coaching and being involved in the action and in the middle of things, are there without the responsibilities of a head coach."