Sacramento Kings

Kings have fired many coaches in Sac era; one called it ‘best Christmas present I ever got’

A quick walk through the coach Dave Joerger’s career with the Kings

Sacramento Kings general manager Vlade Divac has fired coach Dave Joerger after three years at the helm.
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Sacramento Kings general manager Vlade Divac has fired coach Dave Joerger after three years at the helm.

The numbers reveal a troubling trend, boiled down to one immediate theme: turnover.

The Kings are consistent in one thing during an often-chaotic tour in Sacramento that started in 1985: They shuffle coaches in and out, like laundry going to the cleaners, including Thursday morning when Dave Joerger was dismissed by general manager Vlade Dicac with a year to go on his contract, despite the franchise having its best season in 13 years.

Some firings over the decades were on impulse as owners and front-office folks compete and boil over in emotions just like players and coaches, which can make for a combustible setting.

Sacramento’s first coach, Phil Johnson, was canned by a livid Gregg Lukenbill (then the Kings owner) moments after the Kings had a crash-and-burn game against the Lakers in Los Angeles in the 1986-87 season, falling behind 40-4 in one of the most dreadful showings in NBA history.

Some Kings coaches badly wanted the job, and others filled in to keep the ship afloat.

Jerry Reynolds was that bail-out guy — twice. He filled in as Kings coach on two occasions, loyal to the core, only to re-emerge as a Kings front-office man, and later as a Kings commentator.

Rick Adelman provided a sense of stability and normalcy over his eight years as Kings coach, boosting the sad-Sac franchise into a winner, then a contender.

The Maloof brothers, then the owners, ushered Adelman out following the 2005-06 season because they deemed him dull.

The Kings haven’t produced a winner since.

All told, the Kings have produced just eight winning seasons in Sacramento, all under Adelman, and they have advanced 10 teams to the playoffs.

Some exiled Kings coaches faded away, never to coach in the NBA again as a head man, including (in order of Kings service) Johnson, Reynolds, Bill Russell, Dick Motta, Rex Hughes (except one game as interim head coach in San Antonio), Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus, Kenny Natt, Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, Tyrone Corbin and George Karl.

Whew. That’s brutal on a resume.

The new guy might want to keep his suitcase half packed, just in case. He’ll be the 10th coach in 13 seasons, sure to offer up promises of “changing the culture” and “moving forward” and “winning the right way.”

Kings fans? They want results, not bluster.

A closer peek:

PHIL JOHNSON

Seasons: 1985-87

Record: 51-77 (.398)

Recap: Johnson relocated with the Kings from Kansas City, and the mild-mannered coach led them to a 37-45 record and the playoffs in Year One. But the end was swift. He was canned midway through the 1986-87 season after the Kings missed all 18 of their first-quarter shots against the Lakers at the Forum, trailing 40-4 after one quarter, embarrassing and infuriating the ownership brass. Johnson capped his career as a longtime assistant to Jerry Sloan in Utah.

JERRY REYNOLDS

Season: 1986-87

Record: 15-21 (.417)

Recap: Reynolds, an unassuming, gregarious assistant coach, finished the season after Johnson was fired. His first news conference was epic, the Indiana native saying he didn’t curse and fume like Bobby Knight, but that he could work on it. He moved to the front office after the season.

BILL RUSSELL

Seasons: 1987-88

Record: 17-41 (.293)

Recap: The Kings reached for a big name and blundered big. Russell hadn’t coached in 10 years, with the Seattle SuperSonics, and Kings executives wanted to pick his brain on whom to hire and decided on him on the spot. Russell won 11 championships playing for the Boston Celtics, an all-time winner, but he was uninspired with the Kings. He would often attend practice at Arco Arena, in the seats, sipping coffee and reading the newspaper. He was fired with 24 games left in his first season.

JERRY REYNOLDS

Seasons: 1987-90

Record: 41-93 (.306)

Recap: That man Jerry, again. The toll was hard on Reynolds as the losses mounted. With a 7-21 record in January 1990, Reynolds returned to the front office, where he regained his smile.

DICK MOTTA

Seasons: 1990-92

Record: 48-113 (.298)

Recap: Motta had pedigree, winning an NBA championship with the Washington Bullets in 1978, but he was stubborn old school with a young roster, and it never worked. The low point was a 43-game road losing streak, still an NBA record (when it ended, he bought players cases of beer to celebrate on the team flight home on a plane named AirBall One). After he was fired on Christmas Eve in 1991, Motta called it the “best Christmas present I ever got.”

REX HUGHES

Season: 1991-92

Record: 22-35 (.386)

Recap: Hughes was a Motta friend, on his bench, and had head-coaching tours before at Long Beach City College, Kent State and with the Montana Sky of the short-lived Western Basketball Association. He replaced Motta and finished the season, but he couldn’t inspire the players, either.

GARRY ST. JEAN

Seasons: 1993-97

Record: 159-236 (.403)

Recap: “Saint” was a jovial sort known for his cheery outlook and “PMA” (positive mental attitude). He guided the Kings to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years in 1995-96 with Mitch Richmond the rock, but fading playoff hopes led to his demise. He later was the general manager of the Golden State Worries and served as the team’s coach for a spell in 1999-2000.

EDDIE JORDAN

Seasons: 1997-98

Record: 33-64 (.340)

Recap: Jordan got off to a promising start as a first-time head coach with a soaring reputation in the NBA, but a 3-26 run led to his firing, from ownership, which pained then-GM Geoff Petrie. Petrie’s body English told the story at the news conference. Jordan later coached Washington and Philadelphia.

RICK ADELMAN

Seasons: 1998-2006

Record: 395-229 (.633)

Recap: Adelman was at the forefront of the Kings’ best stretch in the Sacramento era, energizing the region as the team became something of a global draw with international stars such as Vlade Divac. Despite a 44-38 record in 2005-06, Adelman was “shocked and disappointed” he was not brought back by the Maloofs, who thought he was boring.

ERIC MUSSELMAN

Season: 2006-07

Record: 33-49 (.402)

Recap: The Kings era and dynamic was changing and declining, though things seemed optimistic with an 8-5 start. But losing 17 of 22 to end the season soured the Maloofs, who went impulsive again. Musselman found coaching success again at Nevada (and was recently hired at Arkansas).

REGGIE THEUS

Seasons: 2007-09

Record: 44-62 (.415)

Recap: Theus was Sacramento’s first star player, and he wanted this coaching gig. But the Kings were ready to promote assistant Scott Brooks before Theus dazzled the Maloofs late in the interview process. Theus went 6-18 to start his second season and was terminated before Christmas (he later coached in college). Brooks led Oklahoma City to the NBA Finals and now coaches Washington.

KENNY NATT

Season: 2008-09

Record: 11-47 (.190)

Recap: Natt was a good guy, an everyman player from Louisiana who took over on an interim basis for Theus. A league-worst 17-win season sealed Natt’s fate, and he hasn’t coached in this country at any level since.

PAUL WESTPHAL

Seasons: 2009-12

Record: 51-120 (.298)

Recap: Westphal had success as a player (he’ll be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame) and coached Phoenix to the 1993 NBA Finals. With the Kings, he could not inspire the youngest team in the NBA, and he had a strained relationship with center DeMarcus Cousins.

KEITH SMART

Seasons: 2012-13

Record: 48-93 (.340)

Recap: Smart inherited a roster that had too many one-on-one players, and he received little help through free agency, drafts and trades. He’s now an assistant with the Knicks.

MICHAEL MALONE

Seasons: 2013-14

Record: 39-67 (.368)

Recap: Malone appeared to be the right fit. He got along with his embattled center, Cousins, but was fired after an 11-13 start in his second season despite Cousins missing games to illness. That firing still irks many Kings fans, especially knowing Malone has led Denver’s ascent into the playoffs as a rising power.

TYRONE CORBIN

Season: 2014-15

Record: 7-21 (.250)

Recap: The one-time Utah Jazz role player took over on an interim basis for Malone but didn’t last long. He’s now an assistant with Orlando.

GEORGE KARL

Seasons: 2015-16

Record: 44-68 (.393)

Recap: Karl was hailed as a Kings hero, receiving a standing ovation that stunned him before his first game, and there was promise of more good vibes with an 11-19 showing after he took over for Corbin. But Karl didn’t get along with Cousins, among other issues, and he was fired following a 33-49 season, one game shy of coaching his 2,000th NBA game.

DAVE JOERGER

Seasons: 2016-19

Record: 98-148 (.398)

Recap: Joerger boosted the Kings in his third season, the young team surprising the NBA at the midway point of the season before the club stalled down the stretch. He was let go with a year left on his contract.

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