Of Gods and Frauds

With the firing of Phil Jackson this week – oops, “mutual parting of ways” – I declared that his utterly disastrous tenure as GM of the Knicks had finally cemented him – in my book, at least – as one of the biggest coaching “frauds” in sports history.

Naturally, I was accused of “hot-takery” and for that, I understand.

But is it a “hot take” if I truly believe it? No, I’m serious. I think Phil Jackson was a merely average NBA coach, who rode an incredible wave of two maniacal basketball geniuses – Michael Jeffrey Jordan and Kobe Bean Bryant – to 11 rings.

I know, it’s sounds absurd, right? ELEVEN rings, and a “fraud.” C’mon, Czabe. Really?

No, really. I’ll explain why.

First of all, the dictionary defines fraud as: “a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities.”

When it comes to sports, we never can truly know how much a great coach is helped by great players. Where do you draw the “line of credit”? Is it 70-30 coach/player? The other way around? 50-50? Surely, sports fans acknowledge that some mediocre coaches end up with a single championship that does very little to reflect their skill in guiding the men they coach to a title.

Barry Switzer and George Seifert come to mind.

Switzer is self-explanatory. But Seifert? Yes. While he has two rings as a head coach (89 after taking over for Bill Walsh, and the 94 team that was comically overloaded with free agents like Deion Sanders) he also lost 3 NFC Championship games – including two at home!

Seifert was fired in 1996 after another playoff disappointment, then was out of football for two years before Carolina hired him. He stunk there. Landing with a thud at 1-15 in 2001.

The only saving grace to Seifert, is that he never pawned himself off as anything more than just a quiet coach trying to grind away. In other words, he wasn’t so much a fraud, because he didn’t sell himself as anything special.

Not so with Big Chief Triangle. Phil Jackson was never shy about pushing the narrative of his higher coaching powers through smoke in the lockeroom, passing out books to players on the team bus, and on and on.

And because the rings piled up, most of the media lauded him as the greatest.

Not me.

Michael Jordan was a straight motherfucker on the basketball court, and off of it. That guy was driven to win at all costs, and his maniacal drive lifted everybody along with him. Sure Phil’s “triangle offense” was given lots of credit, but again… you have Jordan bro.

Kobe was cut from a similar cloth of sporting psychosis, albeit dripped in a little bit more narcissism. Plus, he had Shaq. Any of the Real Housewives of Orange County could have rode those guys to multiple rings. And I’m not buying any of the Phil-as-Lockeroom-Peacemaker narrative about how he got Kobe and Shaq to buy into each other. Ballers aren’t stupid. At the end of the day, petty shit gets put aside for winning.

While one can argue that Phil only failed as a GM, and not as coach, I don’t really wall the two career jobs as easily as some people do. Plus, it was the relentless ineptitude of Phil’s reign with the Knicks that makes me declare the emperor never had any real clothes.

His judgement for talent was suspect (Porzingis not withstanding). His ability to get something out of flawed modern players like Carmelo Anthony, was limited, at best. His understanding of where the modern NBA game was now, and where it was going (like 3-point shooting and analytics) was haughtily wrong and nostalgic. His willingness to make a rebuilding plan and stick with it, proved to have zero patience.

And snits like the Porzingis exit interview feud were the stuff of every bad manager who ever worked at a Pizza Hut.

Now, compare this record as player-turned-executive to say Pat Riley (who also coached) or Jerry West. Both of those men have proven themselves to be more than adept at navigating the modern NBA and the whims of dunking millennials, despite the fact both should be categorized as being in “No Country for Old Men.”

Most importantly, both Riley and West take their jobs seriously, and can’t stand losing even NOW when it comes to building good NBA teams. They don’t phone in their gigs from far away places, and rarely walk around getting stupid hats made to pimp their rings.

 

Phil treated this Knicks gig like a $60 million daylight bank robbery. And while a fool like James Dolan deserves every bit of that shakedown, no self respecting executive and competitor would feel good about taking so much money for delivering such a putrid basketball product.

But, I’m sure Phil has his eyes on just how much more of Montana he can buy with that last $24 million he’ll get to go away. Fuck him. I never thought he was that good, and you can’t convince me otherwise.

About the Author

Steve Czaban is a 25 year sports radio veteran, who hosts an afternoon drive show in Washington D.C. He also appears on "Bob and Brian" in Milwaukee. "Czabe" also writes and edits his own commentaries for www.czabe.com and other on-line and print publications. He can be reached at czabe@yahoo.com.

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7 Comments

  1. Well stated, Czabe. I’m one who believes the greatness of coaching is only seen by those behind the curtain, in the preparation, and the stories are rarely shared by someone other than a burned out has-been with an axe to bear, whose story is then quickly swept under the proverbial rug. Of course, in my mind, those same great coaches will never say look over here, here’s the REAL composer of this concerto you just witnessed…they tend to stand off to the side and let the athletes have their moment; I.e. Herb Brooks or Bill Belichick.
    Keep the articles coming! Miss you and the boys on air.

  2. As far as the impact a coach has on a team’s success, i’d say it’s like 35-65 coach to player. You can have the greatest coach of all time telling people exactly what they should do to be successful, but in the end it ALWAYS comes down to execution. If you can’t run the plays correctly, if you can’t hustle, if you can’t get creative, your team will fail, no matter who coaches. So to say that Phil was this “Red Aurbach of the modern day” is silly. Phil came up with a halfway decent offensive scheme that played really well when used properly and with minimal mistakes. Add all that with freakish talents like Michael and Kobe and you get remarkably successful franchises. what’s maddening isn’t even the fact that Phil got lucky with who he coached, it’s just that he takes credit for all of it. as if his coaching is what made Michael unstoppable in crunch time or what made Shaq so dominant in the paint, etc. stupid.

  3. John Gruden taking Dungie’s team to the super bowl and winning laughably easy against his old team that was still running his offense. Jim Caldwell’s run in Indy are two more just off the top of my head

  4. Close comp has to be Mike Holmgren who was a success as a coach when the talent was in place but an absolute front office disaster especially with the Browns. As a Vikings fan couldn’t be happier with how that turned out…

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