Holidays never right time for pink slips in world of sports
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.
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.