By Ross Kelly
There are swirling reports that the Sacramento Kings are considering firing Coach George Karl because he can’t get along with star DeMarcus Cousins. Karl wants to trade Cousins while Boogie has indirectly referred to Karl as a “snake”. Who knows if these two can/will co-exist in Sacramento but this feud makes us think about other player-coach beefs in sports. With all due respect to Terrell Owens and every coach he’s ever played for, those were just minor dustups compared to these feuds:
7. Paul Westhead vs. Magic Johnson
These two were both rookies in their professions when they won a title together in 1979-80. But after a disappointing second season together, and a rough start to a third season, Westhead was fired just 18 months after winning that championship. Magic was reportedly unhappy with the style of offense Westhead employed and wanted a change at coach. As the face of the franchise, what Magic wanted, Magic got, and Westhead was replaced by a young assistant named Pat Riley. We all know what happened to Magic and Riley while Westhead could become a vagabond coach across the NBA, ABA, WNBA, NCAA Men’s, NCAA Women’s, and something called the JBL.
6. Jerry Sloan vs. Deron Williams
Whenever you get an iconic coach who’s led your team for 21 years to essentially retire during halftime of a game; you know there’s more to the story than what’s being reported. To this day, all we know is that Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan had a “disagreement” during a game which resulted in Sloan resigning just three days after signing a contract extension. Two weeks later the Jazz traded away Williams so apparently Sloan wasn’t the only one who had enough of him.
5. Raymond Domenech vs. the entire French National Team
Domanech somehow managed to get his entire French team to turn on him and nearly boycott the 2010 World Cup. After dismissing striker Nicolas Anelka from the team, and then squabbling with Patrice Evra; the French players were considering skipping their final group stage match. It took the French sports minister to convince the team to suit up and they responded with an uninspiring performance in their final game. Domanech would be fired, Anelka retired from the team (after getting an 18-game ban), and Evra also received a five-game suspension.
4. Jon Gruden vs. Keyshawn Johnson
It’s usually the superstar player who gets the coach canned but when that superstar is aging and the coach is just coming off a Super Bowl, the roles get reversed. Gruden finally grew tired of Johnson’s mouth and sideline antics and deactivated the receiver for the final seven games of the 2003 season. The Bucs could have just cut Johnson but chose to deactivate him so he couldn’t latch on with another team. It says a lot about a relationship when one side chooses to eat money just so they can stick it to the other side. These days, Gruden and Johnson are, seemingly, all chummy under the worldwide leader at ESPN.
3. Virgil vs. Ted DiBiase
I’m really stretching the terms “player” and “coach” but any late 80s/early 90s WWF fan would agree with me on this one. Virgil was the Million Dollar Man’s personal assistant/bodyguard/manager for four years before turning on him at the 1991 Royal Rumble. Virgil would then defeat DiBiase at SummerSlam later that year for the Million Dollar Championship and the two would be briefly reunited in WCW as members of the NWO. No word on the current status between the two but Virgil did reprise his role as assistant to DiBiase’s son, Ted Jr. on Monday Night Raw in 2010.
2. P.J. Carlesimo vs. Latrell Sprewell
Everyone knows about this one. Spree and PJ got into a heated shouting match in a practice one day which eventually led to Sprewell grabbing PJ’s throat and choking him for about 10 seconds. Warriors’ teammates eventually separated the two but Sprewell wasn’t finished. He left practice, showered, changed clothes, contemplated his thoughts, and then came back for more of his 48-year-old coach. In the second round Sprewell punched PJ in the cheek before assistant coaches could get in between them. Somehow the Warriors thought his actions only warranted a 10 game suspension before the NBA stepped in and suspended Sprewell for an entire year. PJ would go on to have several more coaching stints while Sprewell revitalized his career in New York before having several off-the-court incidents.
1. Paul Westhead vs. Spencer Haywood
In a few months former All-Star Spencer Haywood will walk on stage in Springfield, MA and be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. That’s a far cry from 1980 when Haywood was a cocaine addict who plotted to have his then-Lakers coach Paul Westhead killed by a hitman. Yes, you read that correctly. In the midst of a cocaine relapse during the 1980 NBA Finals, Haywood fell asleep during a Lakers’ practice and was kicked off the team by Westhead. Haywood then constructed a plan to murder his coach and reached out to a hitman. Obviously, Haywood came to his senses and eventually called the hitman off and he eventually became clean as well. As for Westhead, just scroll up.