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Gallant’s firing only latest among surprise pro sports breakups

Updated January 15, 2020 - 6:34 pm

According to Greek mythology, it was during the 12th or 13th century B.C. when the home side figured out a way to sneak a large wooden horse inside the city of Troy when the Trojans weren’t paying attention.

Greek warriors were said to be hiding inside. It was the bejesus of end-around plays.

Upon emerging, they routed the Trojans almost as badly as Oregon did the ones from Southern California during the recent college football season.

The startled looks on the faces of the Trojan soldiers and defensive backfield must have mimicked those of Golden Knights’ fans Wednesday when Gerard Gallant was fired as coach less than two years after guiding the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in its debut season.

As military history shows, surprise attacks, maneuvers and decisions occasionally will happen on the battlefield.

On the battlefields of professional sports — or at least high above them where owners and general managers plot their next moves — they have been known to happen with stunning regularity.

To wit: Six days after owner Art Modell received clearance to move the NFL’s Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996 — before the franchise even had a nickname — he presented a certain coach named Belichick with a pink slip.

Major breakups

When he was let go without ceremony or fanfare, Bill Belichick was one season removed from directing the Browns to an 11-5 record and AFC playoff berth. In fairness to Modell, no one could have predicted the six golden rings in New England.

It was a much different situation in Dallas two years earlier when Jimmy Johnson and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones severed ties just two months after Johnson coached Jones’ team to a second consecutive Super Bowl title.

That one was more of a mutual parting of the ways than a firing.

In the NBA, Phil Jackson mutually parted with the Chicago Bulls after helping Michael Jordan win six championships over Jackson’s nine seasons.

The basketball Zen master and Bulls’ general manager Jerry Krause had a contentious relationship that resulted in the latter saying after the former signed a one-year extension: “I don’t care if it’s 82-0 this year, you’re (expletive) gone.”

The Bulls did not go 82-0. They went 62-20. But despite winning the 1998 NBA title, Jackson was (expletive) gone the next season, to Los Angeles, where he would help Kobe Bryant win the next three NBA championships and then two more during a second stint as coach.

In baseball, Terry Francona was hired to manage the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and promptly guided the team to its first World Series crown since 1918. Three seasons later, he skippered the Sox to another one. Four seasons after that he, too, was fired.

Francona was the manager in Cleveland when the Indians won 22 games in a row in 2017.

Evolving personalities

In researching these firings and mutual partings of the way, I was directed to a job fair website that claims most people get fired for the same reason they get hired: A personality once considered an asset turns into a liability as a business evolves, or a team can’t beat the L.A. Kings on home ice.

“Most employment relationships come to an end over some form of personality clash between an employee and a manager or a staff member’s fit with the overall team,” the job fair folks said.

In the cases mentioned above, only one — Francona’s — was not outwardly based on a personality conflict.

True, Belichick had only that one winning season in five, and so one may assume his ouster also was performance related. But last year Sports Illustrated ran a series of headlines taken from Belichick’s tenure in Cleveland that suggested a failure to play nice with others.

“The Latest in Browns wear: Beavis and Belichick T-shirts,” read one. Another simply said: “Browns’ Belichick unpopular with everyone.”

For the record, the Knights are saying Gallant’s firing was performance based. Unlike Belichick in Cleveland, he was not unpopular with everyone. His players seemed to respect and even admire him.

To which I will only add: Anybody who claims they saw the wooden horse roll up to KeyBank Center in Buffalo between periods Tuesday night failed to mention it on Twitter.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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