Pini Gershon is a superb coach.
There is no arguing with three European titles, eight Israeli championships and seven State Cups.
He will forever be remembered as one of Israel’s all-time greatest coaches.
However, his appointment as Guy Goodes’s assistant at Maccabi Tel Aviv on Monday was nothing short of a sham.
After returning to the pinnacle of European basketball, both on and off the court, thanks to the work of previous coach David Blatt and many others at the club, Maccabi set itself back four years on Monday.
For all the talk about wanting to give the club a more youthful face, both in the front office and on the court, the Maccabi owners reverted to their natural instincts on Monday.
For all the talk about Goodes being the chosen one, Maccabi’s coach of the future, the club stabbed him in the back by bringing Gershon to work by his side.
Maccabi’s management can insist all it likes that Goodes had the final say on the matter. There should be no doubt that Goodes certainly shoulders much of the responsibility for a decision he may well live to regret for the rest of his life. However, unlike what some in the Maccabi ownership have said, it was not Goodes who suggested bringing Pini in. Goodes vehemently rejected the notion when it was first raised over a month ago. He still didn’t think it was a good idea after meeting with Gershon. It was only after spending several hours at Gershon’s home on Monday morning that Goodes finally chose to agree to the move.
Just hours later while sitting beside Gershon as he was unveiled in a hastily organized press conference at the club offices, Goodes’s body language already seemed to suggest that he understood he had made a grave mistake.
Gershon was up to all his usual antics on Monday. Charming the crowd with crude jokes, insisting he will never take Goodes’s place, but mainly overshadowing the new head coach who must have felt like he was back in the assistant’s role he held for the past four years under David Blatt.
Not only did Goodes face the unenviable task of stepping into Blatt’s massive shoes, but now he is also doing so under the enormous shadow of Gershon.
“I had my concerns, but after meeting with Pini several times I decided to bring him aboard. It wasn’t a simple decision, but I’m sure we will succeed,” said Goodes.
It is a lose-lose situation for Goodes.
If Maccabi somehow manages to emulate the success of last season, Gershon will be hailed as a genius. Goodes will get some credit, but no more than he did this past season. Should Tel Aviv falter, Goodes will be labeled as an utter failure as he couldn’t even succeed with Gershon by his side.
As for Gershon, after four years away from the sideline he just got bored and the opportunity he was waiting for finally arrived on Monday.
Since his sacking by Maccabi in 2010, Gershon was waiting for a chance to get back in the action. He had no interest in coaching abroad and none of the bigger teams in Israel had any interest in him.
However, Tel Aviv handed him a lifeline on Monday and he grabbed it as hard as he could.
Gershon was adamant that under no circumstance will he take over from Goodes should the team struggle and the latter be sacked. He insisted that if Goodes goes so will he.
“I have won enough games and have taken enough titles. This is his time,” said Pini, who seems to honestly have no intention of replacing Goodes.
However, Tzvika Sherf never planned to take over from Oded Katash either in December 2007. Sherf was brought in as a general manager ahead of the 2007/08 season to compensate for Katash’s inexperience.
Katash was gone after a poor run of results early in the season and Sherf was called upon to take his place.
The job titles may be different this time around, but the bottom line is very similar.
Goodes may be the one who makes the professional decisions on paper, but Gershon will be the actual authority.
Maccabi’s management acknowledged that the decision to bring Gershon back into the fold has its risks. The fact it took so long to sign him and that he was only ultimately offered the job after others turned it down proves how unsure the club was of adding Pini to the coaching staff.
After all, they surely hadn’t forgotten how it once took Gershon a mere eight minutes to sully an international reputation Maccabi had spent decades building.
All of Maccabi’s hard-fought efforts to establish itself globally as a well-respected European club were brushed aside in one full-blown eruption of petulance by its then-coach in October 2009.
Gershon embarrassed himself, his club, and one can only hope not all of Israel by association, by inexplicably refusing to leave the floor after receiving two technical fouls during a pre-season game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
The bizarre farce only ended after Gershon finally succumbed to pleas from the referees, club chairman Shimon Mizrahi and even Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, founder and president of Migdal Ohr, the charity which benefited from the event.
However, the damage had already been done and Maccabi was once more left with the dirty job of cleaning up after a Gershon- induced mess.
In November 2000, Gershon was caught on camera explaining the difference between the black players he had coached.
He idiotically went on to distinguish between the cleverer lighter-skinned players and their darker black brethren, who “do exactly what you tell them, just like slaves.”
Gershon was quick to apologize, explaining he had been misunderstood. However, he wasn’t sacked and was twice brought back to coach the team well before this week’s developments.
Thanks to his track record of success, Pini can seemingly do anything he likes at Maccabi, including humiliate the club internationally on multiple occasions.
The man who epitomizes all that is bad about Maccabi is back at the club once more. And apart from Gershon, all involved are worse off for it.