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One Game At A Time

Knowing when to leave is part of the game

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CHANGES in the coaching ranks are always news and the recent announcement of Leo Austria that he will no longer mentor the Adamson Falcons after the current season occupied a chunk of yesterday’s UAAP action.

It was the third coaching story in the league after Gee Abanilla was replaced by Juno Sauler at La Salle just before the season started and Ricky Dandan stepped down as UP coach after a seven-game losing run.

There are a variety of reasons for the changes: Some are done in choreographed fashion like when Norman Black knew that he would coach the Ateneo Blue Eagles for the last time last year.  Others are spur of the moment decisions after heated exchanges and one can only speculate what these are as teams never seem to admit such fiery confrontations take place.  Others just don’t get a break and never get any winning streaks going to engineer a run at a Final Four slot.

Austria has been always one of the headiest bench tacticians, very much in the same way in which he played.  As a coach, he knew how to mesh talent as seen in Adamson’s Final Four forays and the triumph of the San Miguel team in the ABL.  He, of all people, could sense when it was time to go before any one else could tell him.

In this current era of frenzied collegiate basketball, it seems easy to pinpoint that overzealous communities are also to blame for sudden or endless coaching changes.  This has been a reality that most if not all UAAP schools have had to contend with.  School alumni, many of whom are captains of industry or band together as boosters of the varsity team, do have voices that can be heard.

Social networking also adds to the mix, as comments from different sectors of the community can either be supportive or counterproductive. The UAAP is a high profile league not only because of the TV and print coverage but also because it is a topic worth trending and debating upon in cyberspace.  Fans have found a medium to express themselves to a wider audience outside of their friends and families.

But from a basketball standpoint, a coaching change also happens when the coaches know it isn’t working anymore.  After a few winning seasons, a team may not get the same chemistry it used to enjoy when the coach started laying  out his system on the team.  What’s more, the star players who carried the load may have already graduated, departed or moved on to other teams.  Not all seasons are the same and there are lucky programs that can recruit well and enjoy ample support.

How teams fare in the UAAP or any other collegiate league always stirs interest in the school communities of member teams.  Unlike in the pros or commercial leagues, where losing seasons can be easily forgotten and replaced by new winning runs, school sports campaigns are unforgettable experiences.  Championship years are eternally embedded while lost games are like wounds that never really heal.  Maybe it’s because school sports are attached to the youthful loyalties of all concerned.

Unfortunately but quite easily at that, the most critical role in the college equation is the coach.  Unlike legendary strict teachers who can send students out of class and terrorize with tough love, sports coaches don’t have that luxury or tenure.  Their value is measured in victories and when they cannot deliver, change is inevitable.


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