Pyrrhic Victories

Only Danehy Can Turn A Winning Streak Into Defeat.

HIGH-SCHOOL BASKETBALL season began this week with the official start of practice, and it did so without me. See, I got fired. Again. And I didn't just get fired; I got fired after going undefeated. Again. As a matter of fact, it's the third time in my life (and second time in five years) that I've been fired after going undefeated. This breaks the previous world record of two, which was also held by me.

Do you realize how big a jerk you have to be to get fired after going undefeated? If this pattern repeats itself a few more times, I'm going to start giving serious consideration to the notion that these firings might be at least partly my fault.

I've been coaching for quite a while. I've coached high school football, baseball, girls' basketball and boys' basketball with an overall record of 175-12. Why then do I get fired? First of all, I don't do anything illegal, improper or immoral. Mostly I'm just imm...nnoying.

It's certainly not the kids; they adore me. I think they instinctively recognize me as one of their own. Parents, for the most part, really like me, too, for several reasons. Every kid I coach gets to play in every game; nobody rides the bench. I set high standards on and off the court, and I always stress sportsmanship. Work hard during practice and in games, get good grades in class, be quality people everywhere you go. (A couple years ago, 14 of my 16 players were straight-A students). Plus, my basketball teams always practice on Saturday nights. How much do you think it means to parents of high-schoolers to know that their kids are in the gym for two or three hours on Saturday night and are going to come home exhausted and fall right into bed?

So if it's not the players or their parents, it must be those pesky adults in positions of authority above me. I seem to keep doing things that cause them to develop facial tics.

After coaching the Salpointe freshman girls to a 16-0 mark (which has never been duplicated), I got fired because the kids had "too much fun." So, it was on to Amphi, a school not really known for its girls' basketball program. The year before I got there, the three teams (varsity, JV and freshman) had won a combined 19 games. The three years I was there, we won 39, 44, and 38 games, respectively. And please don't think I'm trying to take credit for all of it; I simply did my part. Everybody worked hard, coaches and players. We had open gym all the time, busted our butts during the summer and played hard during the season. There's no secret to success. Put in the time and the work and do it with enthusiasm and fun.

My three freshman teams have the best records in the program's history and last year's undefeated group was the first ever at Amphi. Over the same period, the JVs also had three consecutive winning seasons. Meanwhile, the varsity had the two best records in school history, was ranked in the Top 10 in the state, made three straight trips to the regionals and two trips to state, received AIA team scholar-athlete recognition, and won the only conference championship in school history. And then I got fired.

The poor guy who hired (and eventually fired) me pretty much considers me the antichrist of coaching. He couldn't even stand to watch my teams play. (My squads play a modified-kamikaze style of ball. On offense, it's shoot the three, then go get the long rebound. On defense, it's press 'til the other team pukes, dive on the floor for loose balls, crash into walls, and pretty much do whatever it takes to convince the opposition that we're insane.)

Anyway, last spring, the head coach calls me in for a chat. I thought he wanted to talk about the upcoming summer stuff. Instead, he says I'm fired. When I asked why, he produced this long-ass list of notes. I mean, it spilled over the table onto the floor and would have unrolled out into the hall if the door hadn't stopped it. Among his complaints (these are real; no exaggerations):

· "The kids call you 'Tom.'" That's my name! I don't have this ego thing; I don't need to be called "Coach." All I care is that we have mutual respect and that they do what I ask them to do when I ask them to do it.

· "You let the (less-talented) kids play too much." More than half of all kids who play freshman basketball will never play again. If you have 15 kids, maybe three or four will ever make it to varsity. Why not make it fun for them while they're there? And if I can let everybody play and win and have them get good grades and have fun, what's the down side?

· "All you teach these kids how to do is win." Well, duh. Believe me, freshman girls want to win just as badly as varsity boys or anybody else. If they're keeping score, I want to win. It's not the most important thing, but don't give me this crap about it not being important at all.

Oh yeah, a couple months after he fired me, he quit.

So I'm taking this season off to help my son through the academic rigors of his freshman year (the knucklehead is taking AP trig in the ninth grade), and maybe I'll try to get back into it next year. If you hear of anything, let me know. I've got incredible letters of reference (all of which were written by coaches from other schools).

I figure if I could go undefeated and get fired a fourth time, that would leave behind a legacy that would never be challenged.