<
>

Whack Jobs: Wacky history of Nets coach firings

By Chris Sheridan

The New Jersey Nets are scheduled to have a breakfast meeting at 11 a.m. PT on Sunday in Los Angeles.

Bacon, sausage and ham will be joined by one other piece of dead meat: Lawrence Frank.

All signs pointed Sunday to the imminent firing of the Eastern Conference's longest tenured head coach, with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports saying the ax will likely come down Monday, and Al Iannazzone of the Record reporting similar -- but also throwing out the possibility that Frank might get to prowl the sidelines at the Meadowlands one last time Wednesday night against Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks.

A source close to Frank said the coach has known for a week that his imminent departure was a fait accompli, with the only question being where and when it was going to happen.

Given the franchise's history of whacking coaches, it's about a 50-50 proposition that Frank makes it aboard the team charter tonight -- much less onto the bus taking the team to the airport -- after the 0-16 Nets finish a four-game Western swing with a game against the Los Angeles Lakers, trying to avoid the NBA record for most consecutive losses to begin a season.

We've chronicled the losses that could have been W's, we've seen Frank have a laugh at his own expense a week ago when his status was already teetering, so now it's time for some tale-telling to help kill the hours between the early morning and tonight's probable loss to the Lakers.

If Frank doesn't make it onto the bus after the game, it would not be an unprecedented event in Nets history. (In fact, there's even a Nets coaching story about the time they hired Rollie Massimino, who changed his mind but didn't tell the team and thus was a no-show for his introductory news conference).

Back in the lockout-shortened 1999 season, the Nets dropped to 3-17 with a loss in Miami, and John Calipari never made it onto the bus. Instead, he was escorted by then-majority owner Lewis Katz across the court at Miami Arena, in full view of the team's beat writers, and was taken to a black limo, which drove off.

Calipari did not accompany the team that night on its charter flight to Toronto, but he flew there anyway after being fired because he wanted to inform the team of the news in person. But when Calipari walked into a ballroom at the team hotel to deliver the news, the players already knew. They had gotten the news from, of all people, motivational speaker Tony Robbins, who had been hired by someone on the management side to give the team a pep talk. The coaching reins were handed over to Don Casey, whose first task as head coach that day was to tell all the other assistants they had been fired, too. Casey coached that night against the Raptors with one assistant, Mike O'Koren, who had to be pulled off his assignment as the team's radio commentator.

Casey went 13-17 the remainder of that season to retain the job, but he went 31-51 in 1999-2000 -- with the Nets going 0-for-April and losing their final 11 games -- and was out at the end of that season. That's when the Nets hired Rod Thorn as team president, and he hired Byron Scott as the new head coach.

Scott went 26-56 his first season, but led the Nets to the NBA Finals the next two seasons following the Jason Kidd-Stephon Marbury trade.

The following season, 2003-04, the Nets were in first place in the Atlantic Division but were muddling along at 22-20 when Scott was summoned to a breakfast meeting with Thorn. There was dead meat on the menu that morning, too, as Scott was axed and the job was handed on a temporary basis to Frank, who immediately won his first 13 games.

Frank has been in charge ever since, and tonight will be career game No. 466 (No. 504 if you include playoffs) for the 39-year-old native of Teaneck, N.J. -- provided he makes it through that breakfast meeting and then onto the team bus.