Hol­i­days never right time for pink slips in world of sports

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Dan Daly

The “Trans­ac­tions” col­umn in the news­pa­per takes on a lit­tle dif­fer­ent tone this time of year. Af­ter all, no­body wants to be ter­mi­nated, re­leased, waived, cut or oth­er­wise “moved” dur­ing the hol­i­days. It sim­ply isn’t in the spirit of the sea­son.

And hav­ing it hap­pen right around Christ­mas [. . . ] that’s the ab­so­lute worst. Like when Avery John­son got axed by the Den­ver Nuggets on Dec. 24, 1990, the morn­ing af­ter a game at Port­land — and then had to fly home with the team, his for­mer team. Or when Los An­ge­les Rams coach Ge­orge Allen picked up the tele­phone on Dec. 26, 1968, and heard owner Dan Reeves say, “Merry Christ­mas, Ge­orge. You’re fired!”

For a while af­ter that, ev­ery time the phone rang in the Allen house­hold, “my fa­ther would say, ‘Uh-oh!’ and refuse to an­swer [it],” Jen­nifer Allen writes in “Fifth Quar­ter: The Scrim­mage of a Foot­ball Coach’s Daugh­ter.”

“We would force the re­ceiver into our fa­ther’s hand.”

Treat­ing a coach or ath­lete that way is mean, cruel, in­hu­mane, Mickey Mouse and pos­si­bly even ticky-tacky. Sure, sports are a busi­ness, but couldn’t there be a mora­to­rium on th­ese things un­til af­ter the first of year, a cou­ple of weeks of peace on earth and good­will to­ward the Last Man on the Bench?

Or as Allen’s wife Yvette put it, “You Amer­i­cans are so bru­tal, so dif­fer­ent from the French! At least when a man is stand­ing at the guil­lo­tine, we give him a cig­a­rette be­fore cut­ting off his [ex­ple­tive deleted] head!”

Be­sides, th­ese yule­tide moves of­ten turn out badly — so badly it makes you won­der if some higher power isn’t reg­is­ter­ing his or her dis­ap­proval. Take John­son. He was just a fringe player when the Nuggets waived him in 1990, but his scor­ing in­creased for seven straight sea­sons un­til he was av­er­ag­ing 13.4 points and 8.2 as­sists a game as a start­ing point guard for the Spurs.

While in San An­to­nio, John­son won an NBA ti­tle and es­tab­lished him­self as one of the league’s true Char­ac­ter Guys. Den­ver, mean­while, has won just one play­off se­ries since ’90 and, un­til the last few sea­sons, was a league laugh­ing­stock. The Nuggets tried to make amends by bring­ing him back in 2001 — at a cost of $15 mil­lion over three years — but at 36, he didn’t have much left. Serves ’em right. As for Allen, who was canned de­spite a 29-11-3 record, his play­ers lined up be­hind him and forced Reeves to change his mind. Two years later, Ge­orge was ousted for good, but he went to Wash­ing­ton and took the Red­skins to the Su­per Bowl in just his sec­ond sea­son. The Rams didn’t reach Ro­man Nu­meral Land un­til the 1979 sea­son, and now, of course, there are no Los An­ge­les Rams.

But the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of Reeves’ boor­ish be­hav­ior go be­yond that. You see, af­ter he died in 1971 — a ram­i­fi­ca­tion in it­self, some might say — the fran­chise was sold to the in­fa­mous Robert Ir­say, who im­me­di­ately swapped it for the Bal­ti­more Colts.

And now there are no Bal­ti­more Colts, ei­ther.

(If only, be­fore set­ting th­ese ter­ri­ble events in mo­tion, Reeves had got­ten a visit from the Ghost of Christ­mas Fu­ture [. . . ])

There are plenty of other ex­am­ples of such Noel-brain­ers, as I call them — of teams suf­fer­ing tem­po­rary in-Santa-ity and, as a con­se­quence, find­ing them­selves up a chim­ney with­out a pad­dle. For in­stance:

In 1958, be­fore “Touch­down Je­sus” kept watch over the cam­pus, Notre Dame gave the boot to foot­ball coach Terry Bren­nan — an alum, no less — on Christ­mas Eve. The rea­son for his dis­missal: The Ir­ish had gone a mere 32-18 dur­ing his ten­ure. Over the next five years, though, un­der Joe Kuharich and Hugh Devore, ND went 19-30 and never fin­ished above .500. Moral: When you try to “shake down the thun­der” dur­ing the hol­i­days, there’s a good chance you’ll get struck by light­ning.

Then there’s the Oak­land Raiders in 1996. Al Davis cer­tainly wasn’t dream­ing of a White Christ­mas that year. In­deed, he gave coach Mike White his walk­ing pa­pers — fol­low­ing a 7-9 sea­son — on Dec. 24. White’s suc­ces­sor, Joe Bugel, lasted just one year, guid­ing the Raiders to their worst record (4-12) since ’62. But don’t blame Buges; blame Al the Grinch.

years af­ter that, in a ruth­less dis­play of cor­po­rate ag­nos­ti­cism, At­lanta’s Hawks and Thrash­ers — both owned by AOL Time Warner — fired their coaches on the day af­ter Christ­mas. (Ten points if you can name ei­ther of them. OK, it was Lon Kruger and Curt Fraser.) I have only one thing to say about this ill-timed twin killing: How’s AOL’s stock been do­ing lately?

I could go on, but you get the point: Just as it’s not nice to fool with Mother Na­ture, it’s all but sui­ci­dal to mess with Fa­ther Christ­mas.

File photo

The day-af­ter-Christ­mas fir­ing of coach Ge­orge Allen by Los An­ge­les Rams owner Dan Reeves in 1968 may have set the cos­mic wheels in mo­tion that re­sulted in the Bal­ti­more Colts mov­ing to In­di­anapo­lis years later.

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