Will George Karl Be the First Coach of the Year to Be Fired?

George Karl: current coach of the Denver Nuggets and recipient of the 2013 Coach of the Year award.

George Karl: current coach of the Denver Nuggets and recipient of the 2013 Coach of the Year award.

It is not unheard of for players who win awards to leave the teams they play for.  Last season Ryan Anderson won the Most Improved Player (MIP) award, but was soon suiting up for a different team.  Moses Malone, likewise, won the first of his two Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards and promptly switched teams, moving from Houston to Philadelphia where he would again win the MVP award and become the first and only player to win the award in back-to-back seasons whilst playing for different teams.  But this is not common practice for players, and it is certainly not common practice for coaches.  That doesn’t mean it won’t happen.  George Karl has won the Coach of the Year Award (COY) for the first time in his career.  The irony?  He was likely on his way out of Denver.

 

Rick Carlisle was fired as head coach of the Detroit Pistons a year after winning COY, but would redeem himself by earning a championship with Dallas.

Rick Carlisle was fired as head coach of the Detroit Pistons a year after winning COY, but would redeem himself by earning a championship with Dallas.

No coach has ever been fired so abruptly after winning the award, though Rick Carlisle won the award in 2002 and was promptly let go at the end of 2003.  This was done for an upgrade though as the Pistons brought in Hall of Fame coach and 2001 COY Larry Brown.  In 2007 Sam Mitchell won COY honours, but when new management coming in the following season, found himself out of a job less than 20 games into the 2008/09 season.  He won the award in 2007 and was fired in 2008 (the firing proved to be a mistake as Jay Triano, who took over the team that was almost at .500 with Mitchell, finished the season with a 25-40 record).  Mike Brown won the award in 2009 and was fired in 2010, while Avery Johnson and Byron Scott were fired two season after winning the award.  Avery Johnson, this past season, won back-to-back Coach of the Month awards and found himself fired at the end of the third month.  Indeed, it seems winning the award provides no job security at all.

 

 

George Karl during his college days with the North Carolina Tar Heels.

George Karl during his college days with the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Karl deserves a great deal for credit for his work in Denver.  When he arrived, he took over a team that was 17-25 and then went onto go 32-8 for the rest of the season; one of the biggest, mid-season turnarounds in the history of the NBA.  The last six seasons have seen Karl obtain 50 wins, or the equivalent winning percentage (last season lock-out shortened season did not allow Karl to get 50 wins, though his winning percentage was higher than that of a 50-win team).  For all the regular season success though, Karl and the Nuggets have only been out of the first round of the playoff once in their time together.  In his first four seasons with the Nuggets, though he made the playoffs each season, he only earned 3 victories, going 3-16.  The last four seasons have seen the Nuggets earn more wins in the post season, but has not seen the team go beyond the first round.  It may be fair to suggest that since the Nuggets only had home-court advantage one in Karl’s first eight seasons with Denver, that they should have only been expect to reach the second round once, and since they were playing dynasties like the Spurs and Lakers on a regular basis, it seems like a fair point.  But the Nuggets should have at least

The Denver Nuggets have never reached the NBA finals during the team's history.

The Denver Nuggets have never reached the NBA finals during the team’s history.

been competitive in those series?  In 2008 they had two scoring champions on their team and still couldn’t manage to earn a single win in the post season.  This year, with a 57-25 record the Nuggets were expected to challenge for a spot in the NBA finals; instead they were out in the first round again.  Some have excused the exit by noting the injury incurred by Danilo Gallinari, but Gallinari was only the second leading scorer on the team with a meagre 16.2 points a game.  The Golden State Warriors, Denver’s first round opponents, were missing David Lee, their second leading scorer (with 18.5 points per game) and the team’s leading rebounder (with 11.2 a game).  The loss of Lee was a much bigger loss for the Warriors than was Gallinari for the Nuggets.  Coupled with that, the Warriors were coached by Mark Jackson who was making his first appearance in the playoffs as a head coach and was leading a team with ten fewer wins who was missing their lone All-Star and All-NBA representative in David Lee.

 

Despite having two scoring champions on one roster (Allen Iverson: 99, 01, 02, 05 and Carmelo Anthony: 13), Karl failed to earn even a single victory in the 2008 playoffs.

Despite having two scoring champions on one roster (Allen Iverson: 99, 01, 02, 05 and Carmelo Anthony: 13), Karl failed to earn even a single victory in the 2008 playoffs.

At the end of the day, teams should expect progress.  It is true that the Carmelo trade may have put the Nuggets back a little, though most would agree they made out very well with the trade.  Karl helped to guide the Nuggets through this transitory period, but this season, more than any other, should have afford Karl the opportunity to do the one thing he’s spent the last 20 year trying to do; return to the NBA finals.  Instead he led Denver to their 8th first-round exit in 9 seasons.  Outside of Greg Popovich, Karl is the longest tenured coach in the NBA.  The reason Popovich has had his job for as long as he has is because he’s helped the team win 4 championships and has lead them deep into the playoffs almost every seasons since he’s been there.  Despite coaching the Spurs for twice as long as Karl has coached the Nuggets, you can count his first round exits on one hand, something which cannot be said of Karl.

 

The Los Angeles Clippers have reportedly expressed an interest in Karl to fill their vacated coaching position.

The Los Angeles Clippers have reportedly expressed an interest in Karl to fill their vacated coaching position.

There may not be a need to fired Karl though.  With his resume, or perhaps despite it, there are other teams eager to hire him.  The Los Angeles Clippers, who no doubt feel Denver’s failure this season was due to its lack of an All-Star player (though what Karl’s excuse for losing a series 4-0 when he had Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony on his team with one of the deepest front courts in the league is beyond me), reportedly spoke to Karl about their coaching position.  Reports have suggested that the team may ask for permission to speak to Karl; Denver will likely grant permission.  Karl has gone on record to say that he is “unsettled” by the fact Denver’s General Manager (GM) Masai Ujiri was allowed to depart for the Toronto Raptors, so it seems that Karl knows what is in store for him already and is preparing to make his upcoming departure seem like it was his choice, or at least a mutual one.  Regardless of who breaks up with who though, it is clear that Karl’s time in Denver is almost up and that it is best for both parties involved that he move on.  Karl has performed as well as almost any coach in the regular season throughout his career.  There are only six coaches with more regular season wins than Karl, and only three of them have a higher winning percentage than Karl.  But few people remember how good the regular season was and instead focus on what teams accomplished in the playoffs, and Karl has gotten very little done in the post-season since arriving in Denver.

 

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  1. […] their team to a franchise best record and failing to get out of the first round (Coach of the Year George Karl also lost his job under similar circumstances a couple of weeks ago).  River will no doubt be […]

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