10 NBA Coaches Controversially Pushed Out By Their Players
“Success in the NBA is more about the players, and less about the coach, than any league, pro or amateur, in U.S. sports,” wrote Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports in 1999. “More and more, superstars call the shots,” said Sports Illustrated’s five years prior. Each year that goes by seems to give the players more power and make coaches more vulnerable.
Last week saw two veteran NBA coaches get pushed out by uprisings from their players. Mike D’Antoni resigned from the Knicks on Wednesday, and Portland’s Nate McMillan was fired on Thursday, both of them leaving their teams amid turmoil in the locker room. But these two men weren’t the first coaches to lose their jobs after management chose to side with the players in the standoff – and they surely won’t be the last. Here’s a look back at 10 high-drama NBA players vs. head coach feuds from recent decades:
After 22 seasons with the Utah Jazz, coach Jerry Sloan stepped down last year after weeks of rumors that he and star player Deron Williams were at odds with one another. His disagreements with Williams may have contributed to his decision to leave, said NBA.com’s David Aldridge. “Sloan saw the handwriting on the proverbial wall.” Later that month, Williams was shipped to New Jersey in a deadline deal.
Sloan wasn’t the only coach squabbling with his players last year. The Pistons fired coach John Kuester mid-season after he posted an abysmal 57-107 record in two seasons. But it was the team’s open rebellion against Kuester that really defined his tenure, especially the tail end of it. The dismay reportedly arose over how Kuester was treating Pistons’ star Richard Hamilton, and his teammates stood up for him against their coach. How’s that for loyalty?
In 2009, Byron Scott and the Hornets barely got their season underway before the coach was canned following a 3-6 start. “I felt like, maybe somebody would have at least consulted with me and asked how I felt before it happened,” star Chris Paul said. “It’s not to get my approval, but we feel we should know about the decision before it takes place.” That sentiment might sound familiar. Five years earlier, Jason Kidd had this to say after Scott was fired by the Nets: “I had nothing to do with this,” Kidd said. “Coaching changes happen all the time. I’m a player here, I’m an employee. I have no control over who’s the coach or what trades are made.”
The one-time all-time leader in coaching wins left the Raptors in 2003 without any real explanation. Vince Carter, then the Raptors star, said, “What we should look for is a coach who understands the game today. To heck with the past.” After Wilkens landed in New York the next year, he responded to his opposition. “I don’t pay it any mind because many players will say things to distract from themselves,” he said.
Amid a tough stretch of games for the Warriors in 2001, coach Dave Cowens was sent packing. He’d been making headlines in the weeks leading up to his firing for his frustration with his team, and had kicked point guard Mookie Blaylock out of practice the day before. Some Warriors players had been vocal against Cowens’ substitution patterns.
The Seattle SuperSonics got rid of coach Paul Westphal in 2000 after he had some heated disagreements with some of his star players, it was reported. He and point guard Gary Payton were caught in a shouting match during a game. It might come as no surprise then that it happened to Westphal again this season when the Kings let him go after his much-publicized feud with DeMarcus Cousins. What’s that say about his coaching style? “Put this man on a competent team in a desirable situation and he’s a great coach,” said a Bleacher Report writer.
The Magic fired well-liked and accomplished coach Brian Hill in 1997 after he and point guard Brian Shaw got into a shouting match during a game that continued on afterward. The team held a meeting where they unanimously voted that it was time for a coaching change, which helped pressure the organization to make the move. “I understand the NBA and the politics of the NBA,” Hill said upon his firing. “This is part of sports. We all live with it and move on.”
Mike Fratello stepped aside in 1990 after seven seasons with the Hawks. “Mike came to the realization that this would be good for him,” Hawks’ president Stan Kasten said. “I support that decision; I agree with him.” The biggest problem for the Hawks — who missed the playoffs that year, the first time in five seasons — was motivation. “One of the cruelties of NBA coaching is that no matter how hard a coach works, he is guaranteed to be fired if he cannot get his players to play hard and as a team. That’s the problem facing Atlanta Hawks Coach Mike Fratello,” an Orlando Sentinel writer warned the previous year.
Dan Issel surprised everyone in 1995 when he resigned as head coach of the Nuggets. The pressures to win, some believed, contributed to Issel’s decision. And so did some players’ growing discontent for their coach. Just a year earlier, players were reportedly happy with Issel and the direction the organization was headed. Issel swore he’d never coach again, but that didn’t stop him from returning to the team in 1998 as the general manager.
After weeks of speculation, the Clippers finally fired head coach Mike Schuler in 1992. “The level of tension and general uneasiness on the team has progressed over a period of time to the point that our performance on the court has suffered,” said G.M. Elgin Baylor. Earlier that season, a Los Angeles Times writer in a column advised Schuler, “If players mutter about him, remind them they’re paid to play, period. Then sit back and hope for the best.”