SINAI SAYS: Revolving door at Maccabi Tel Aviv has club spinning in place

It didn’t take a genius to understand that Rami Hadar never really had a chance.

December 20, 2016 23:24
Rami Hadar

Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Rami Hadar. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)

The writing was on the wall from day one.

It didn’t take a genius to understand that Rami Hadar never really had a chance.

Nor does Ainars Bagatskis for that matter, at least not this season, assuming he does ultimately become Maccabi Tel Aviv’s next head coach as expected.

Until Maccabi’s ownership truly comprehends its role in the club’s demise over recent years, nothing is going to change.

Hadar thought he was getting a chance of a lifetime. With barely two seasons of experience as a head coach in Israel’s top flight, he was offered to replace Erez Edelstein a mere five games into the campaign.

Edelstein was fired after apparently losing the dressing room, with the season just two weeks old. Some players were unhappy with his style of coaching and two Euroleague defeats to start the year were all it took for the club’s management to completely panic.

There is no hiding from the fact that Edelstein did indeed clash with several of his players, and the management believed that Hadar’s people skills were what was needed to get the roster to play at least as good as the sum of its parts.

Edelstein believed that as his assistant, Hadar should have left with him. But the opportunity was just too tempting for Hadar to resist.

So bizarre was Hadar’s appointment that it seemed that only he and the club’s ownership actually believed he would survive until the end of the season.

Club chairman Shimon Mizrahi insisted that Hadar was not a short-term solution, but that was probably wishful thinking more than anything else.

A man of Mizrahi’s experience knows that there are no shortcuts, and it is hard to understand what made him and fellow owners, David Federman and Udi Recanati, believe Hadar was the right man for the job.

Edelstein’s Euroleague inexperience was highlighted as one of his main deficiencies, but his overall career experience dwarfs that of the 49-year-old Hadar.

One of the main reasons Edelstein was sent home was due to his request to make changes to the roster as he believed too many mistakes were made during the summer. Hadar told the management exactly what it wanted to hear, claiming that he thought success could be achieved with the current group of players.

Needless to say, he was wrong.

After an initial improvement in results, which included three straight wins in the Euroleague, matters quickly spiraled out of control.

Home defeats to Efes Istanbul and Bamberg, two mediocre teams by Euroleague standards, were followed by an embarrassing 83-58 loss at Red Star Belgrade.

Three days prior to the humiliation in Serbia, Maccabi also dropped a 14-point lead in the final six minutes to lose to Hapoel Gilboa/Galil in BSL action.

Hadar may have continued to believe he could lift the team until last Friday, but the players gave up on him long before that, just as they did on Edelstein, who recognized the problems before anyone else but was punished rather than given a mandate to implement change.

When Lior Lubin, who began the season as a second assistant coach, guides Maccabi against reigning European champion CSKA Moscow on Wednesday, he will become the sixth different man to coach the team in a Euroleague game since the start of last season. Guy Goodes was fired last November following a game against Bamberg, with his assistant Avi Even guiding the team in the subsequent defeat to Darussafaka.

Croatian Zan Tabak was then brought in and coached the team in its remaining five regular season games, failing to lead it to the Top 16.

Edelstein lasted just two Euroleague contests this season and Hadar was at the helm for 10 games before he raised the white flag.

As well as more than a handful of fulltime and interim coaches, numerous players have also come and gone over that time.

Overseeing all those changes has been Nikola Vujcic, whose authority over professional matters has steadily increased since his appointment as team manager in 2013.

The almost miraculous Euroleague triumph in 2014 under the guidance of David Blatt bought Vujcic plenty of time, but surely his credit is beginning to run low. Vujcic and head scout Avi Even don’t make all the decisions, but they should ultimately be held responsible for the countless poor signings made by the club and failing to find the right coach to guide the roster.

One of Maccabi’s problems is that the owners often meddle in professional matters, with their suggestions unsurprisingly proving costly more often than not.

One such instance came last season when the ownership insisted on signing Jordan Farmar. While Vujcic can’t be blamed for making that decision, part of his job is finding a way to keep the owners from intervening in professional calls, difficult as it may be considering they are the ones paying his salary and pouring millions into the club.

Vujcic’s appointment and the addition of CEO Hagay Badash, the former head of Israel’s largest investment house Psagot, who was brought in to run the club during the summer, were significant steps in the right direction for Maccabi.

But until the owners actually allow the professionals to do their jobs properly, the team’s progress will be tempered.

That isn’t to say that the likes of Vujcic and Badash shouldn’t be held accountable, with the former failing miserably at his job over the past two years.

Maccabi entered this season on the back of a disastrous campaign in European basketball’s premier club competition, missing out on qualification for the Top 16 for the first time in its history in 2015/16.

The yellow-and-blue was also swept in the quarterfinal playoffs the previous year, and other than 2014, hasn’t reached the Final Four since 2011.

The remarkable title run in 2013/14 was in many ways a curse in disguise. It convinced Maccabi’s ownership that it can compete and beat the continent’s best while continuing to maintain the old-fashioned running of the club.

Coming up well short in Europe and going consecutive campaigns without winning the local league title for the first time in 50 years ensured Tel Aviv’s decision makers understood they need to change the way they operate.

They agreed to cede some control and increased the club’s budget to a record of over NIS 100 million this season.

But the way Edelstein was sacked and the hiring of Hadar in his place proved that old habits die hard.

It should be obvious to Maccabi’s owners by now, but until they actually commit to real change, they will just keep repeating the mistakes of the past.

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