Lynam finds he'd rather ride coach

October 25, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

It was Jim Lynam's first trip back to the sidelines since coaching the Philadelphia 76ers in 1992, and it was not going all that well. After Cleveland forward Bobby Phills swooped in from the left baseline with a leaning dunk that set the crowd off, some of the Cavaliers fans sitting a few rows behind the Washington Bullets' bench decided it was time to rub it in a bit.

"Hey, I'd like to see that one again," shouted the fan, attending the preseason game at the JAR Arena in Akron, Ohio.

"Yeah, I would, too," Lynam said to no one in particular as he walked back to the bench, his head down, his comment dripping in sarcasm.

That preseason opener was just the first of what's expected to be many difficult journeys for Lynam, who, after a two-year hiatus, is entering his eighth season as an NBA coach. Lynam is assuming control of a team that won 24 games last season and has struggled through nine losing seasons in the past decade.

It's a job designed to put a major dent in a coach's career record, a job that does nothing for winning percentages. But still there was a powerful attraction to coaching that made Lynam abandon the general manager's office in Philadelphia to pace the sidelines for a struggling team.

"The biggest thing I missed was being in the gym, being with the players," said Lynam, whose NBA career record is 246-264. "I like being involved in the game. Until you've done both, I don't think you can point out all the different emotions. As a coach, you're much closer to the game."

And more involved than a general manager ever will be. Lynam is in constant motion on the Bullets' bench, doing little dances down the sidelines in front of courtside fans who have appeared quite amused.

During practices, Lynam speaks so low that players are forced to huddle close to hear. But during games, his raspy voice is clearly audible as he reacts to the action.

And still, Lynam says that, though he's glad to be back on the sidelines, the job of coaching doesn't get him overly excited.

"Excited? That doesn't fit in my vocabulary," Lynam said. "That I'm looking forward to this, yes. But excitement, no.

"I enjoy being in the gym," Lynam said. "But my emotions stay JTC where I like them to stay."

Lynam has spent a great deal of time on the bench. He was a college coach for 10 years, including stints at Fairfield, American and St. Joseph's, his alma mater. Lynam's last season of college coaching was 1980-81, when his ninth-seeded Hawks upset No. 1 DePaul, 59-57, in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Lynam's winning percentage at St. Joseph's (.699) is second only to that of Jack Ramsay, the Hall of Famer who later coached four NBA teams. Ramsay had a .764 percentage in 11 seasons at St. Joseph's, where he coached Lynam.

"[Ramsay] was one of my biggest influences in coaching," said Lynam, who began his NBA coaching career as a Portland assistant under Ramsay in the 1981-82 season. "He was so knowledgeable about the game, and was a tremendous teacher."

Ramsay was known as a player's coach, and Lynam has developed the same reputation in the NBA. Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley praised Lynam during their years together in Philadelphia, and the Bullets have seemed to take well to their new coach.

"He's been great," Bullets center Kevin Duckworth said early in camp. "He called me over the summer, and he even flew to Portland for a couple of days to talk with me. He made efforts to keep in contact with me and communicate with me, and I appreciated that."

Guard Rex Chapman said: "Jim is emphasizing being more vocal. I don't know if the energy level is different, but it's a different style and a different coaching philosophy."

Lynam has reunited with Bullets general manager John Nash, who was the 76ers' GM when Lynam was coaching there. Nash, who has compared Lynam with Ramsay, Chuck Daly, Paul Westhead, Billy Cunningham and Rollie Massimino, said he's liked what he's seen thus far.

"I'd be lying if I didn't think he'd be popular and well-received by the players," Nash said. "I think that's been the reception, but that's not the ultimate test. The ultimate test is what our record is and whether or not we're a competitive team. I think we can be, and I think the guys are responding to him very well."

The response has been good, but a coach can't make all the difference. What Lynam can do is help motivate a group that last season had its fifth straight campaign of 50 or more losses.

"If you think you're going to be good enough to make the playoffs, you're talking about winning about half of your games," Lynam said. "The fact that this team won 24 games last year, you use that as a barometer and go forward."

And with the talent he has, Lynam sees that barometer going up.

"I think there's a lot of talent on this team, and these guys are better than what they were a year ago," Lynam said. "This has a chance to be a really good team."

THE LYNAM FILE

Position: Bullets coach.

Age: 53.

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