As the latest professional sports edition of "American Coach Killers" plays out in Orlando, fans are left to choose sides. Is Dwight right? Or is Stan the man? At its heart, the conflict between Magic center Dwight Howard and coach Stan Van Gundy is a power struggle.
If we are to believe voluminous reports, Howard would like his boss to clean out his desk, hand in his security badge and be escorted off the premises. Van Gundy would like ... well, it's hard to tell exactly what Van Gundy would like, but it's safe to assume that it would not include being fired by one of the employees. Should Howard succeed in his subterfuge, he would join a long line of star (read: powerful) athletes who demanded the dismissal of their coaches or who at least promoted such a confrontational relationship that the beleaguered coach got fired or resigned.
The term "coach killer" has been around for a long time, but it gained traction during the debacle that beset Atlanta in 2006, when quarterback Michael Vick and coach Jim L. Mora couldn't agree on just about anything. Though Vick seemed immensely talented, he was criticized as lazy and undisciplined. As a result, Mora's job became less and less secure. Finally, in November 2006, Mora's dad Jim E. Mora, himself a former NFL coach perhaps exhibiting more fatherly pride than football sense, went on a radio show and labeled Vick a "coach killer." Though both sides scrambled to unring the bell, the damage had been done, and Mora Junior was fired two months later.
The "coach killer" label made the rounds again this season when Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni resigned after grumbling by Carmelo Anthony and the Capitals canned Bruce Boudreau after grousing by Alex Ovechkin. Basketball seems to have more coach killers, probably because one player can influence a game's outcome much more than in other sports. But it's not always obvious, because no player wants to be known as a coach killer, and no management team wants people to know how much influence stars really have.
Here's something else to ponder: Dan Reeves went 110-73-1 in a 12-year career as head coach of the Broncos, and he played or coached in nine Super Bowls, more than anyone in history. But that wasn't good enough for prima donna quarterback John Elway, who engineered his coach's ouster. Didn't Elway, now part of the Broncos brass, just bring in a pretty good quarterback who, we might assume, will have some influence over the fate of his bosses? Peyton Manning is no doubt above the fray, but wouldn't it be interesting if he someday wound up on our list of Top 10 Coach Killers in Sports.