The coaching search at Maccabi Tel Aviv is already well under way.
Current head coach Ainars Bagatskis has yet to be officially informed, but both he and everyone else knows he will not be back for the 2017/18 campaign.
Numerous names have been mentioned in connection with the job, with former Maccabi guard Sarunas Jasikevicius, currently the head coach of Zalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania, and Italian Andrea Trinchieri, the coach of German Euroleague side Bamberg, at the top of the club’s wish-list.
Both are more than worthy candidates, although it is unknown if either is interested in the job, with Jasikevicius refusing to comment on the issue when Zalgiris visited Maccabi last week. Even if they actually do want the job, it remains to be seen if the yellow-and-blue will be willing to meet their financial demands, with Maccabi foolishly choosing time and again down the years to try and save money when filling the single one most important position to the team’s success.
Perhaps the dejecting disappointment of this season’s Euroleague campaign, coming on the back of a failure to win the local championship two seasons in a row for the first time in 50 years, will result in a change in attitude and see Maccabi invest in a top coach.
That would certainly be a welcome and unsurprising development when considering Maccabi’s complete failure in signing coaches over the past two seasons.
Alternatively, Maccabi could just give a chance to a coach who has been there right in front of its nose all along.
Despite only turning 42 a couple of months ago, Shamir has been one of Israel’s top coaches for over a decade. He has served as an assistant for several years under Israel’s and Maccabi’s most successful coaches of the 21st century, Pini Gershon and David Blatt. Shamir has won titles as a head coach at Hapoel Jerusalem, gained international experience as an assistant to Ettore Messina during the Italian’s time as head coach at CSKA Moscow and is proving again this season that he knows how to get a roster to play better than the sum of its parts at Hapoel Holon.
There seem to be only two possible reasons for Maccabi’s reluctance to hire Shamir.
One is that he doesn’t have Euroleague experience as a head coach. But Maccabi’s long-time owners surely remember that neither Gershon nor Blatt had coached in the Euroleague prior to being given a chance by the yellow-and-blue. Shamir is unlikely to receive his first Euroleague experience anywhere else, so if Maccabi is waiting for that to happen before handing him the reins it has essentially decided never to put him in charge.
The second, and far less reasonable reason, is Shamir’s relationship with Gershon. With Gershon being one of his main mentors, it is hardly surprising the two are close.
Gershon is Maccabi’s most decorated coach of the modern era, but he has become a persona non grata at the club since he was fired in unceremonious fashion in June 2010. Gershon turned into one of the club’s biggest critics over the past two seasons since Blatt left the club, holding nothing back when chastising the club’s ownership and sport director Nikola Vujcic while working as a TV analyst.
It is clearly personal for Gershon and for those he has blasted at the club, meaning the appointment of someone who they feel belongs to the Gershon camp is almost unthinkable.
But Shamir is arguably the ideal candidate for the job.
After failing to succeed as a player, Shamir decided to turn to coaching following an internship at the University of Kentucky under head coach Rick Pitino.
He began his career as an assistant coach at Hapoel Jerusalem in 2002 before joining Maccabi Tel Aviv a year later. He was part of a remarkable coaching staff in 2003/04, with Pini Gershon serving as head coach, David Blatt as his top assistant and Shamir as a second assistant in a campaign which ended with a Euroleague triumph.
Blatt left for a head coaching position after one year, while Shamir remained as an assistant to Gershon for two more seasons in which the yellow-and-blue reached the Euroleague final twice more, winning one additional title.
Shamir left ahead of the 2006/07 season, joining Hapoel Jerusalem as a head coach. He guided Hapoel to two consecutive State Cup triumphs, a title the club hasn’t won since, while also coming seconds away from an historic championship in 2007. He was fired in April 2008 after a poor run of results in league play, a decision the club’s fans surely still regret, with Jerusalem not achieving a similar level of success for over seven years, finally winning a first champion- ship in 2015 following the takeover of the club by Ori Allon.
Shamir has also served as the head coach of Bnei Herzliya and Hapoel Eilat, with one season under Messina sandwiched in between.
He joined Hapoel Holon for a second time in November 2015 and has reminded everyone of his coaching abilities this season.
The battle for the BSL title was supposed to be a two-horse race between Maccabi and Jerusalem, with both clubs posting record budgets.
No one foresaw Holon challenging for the best record in the regular season, least of all those at the club.
But as things stand, with each team having eight more games to play in the regular season, Holon is tied with Maccabi at the summit with a 17-8 record, only trailing the yellow-and-blue on a head-to-head tiebreaker.
Holon’s season is even more impressive when considering all the blows it has had to overcome.
Holon lost its best player, and the BSL’s leading scorer at the time, Khalif Wyatt, to a season- ending knee injury in February, two months after Paul Delaney was also ruled out for the season following knee surgery.
“I never imagined we would find ourselves in this position,” said Shamir. “But rarely do you find teams with this kind of mental toughness.
We have undergone changes that would have finished other teams.”
Shamir deserves much of the credit for Holon overcoming crisis after crisis, another trait that would come in handy as head coach of Maccabi.
Shamir signed a two-year contract extension at Holon just last month, but both he and the club know that if Maccabi comes calling with the right offer, he will be moving on.
The likes of Jasikevicius and Trinchieri may be Maccabi’s top targets.
But considering the club’s recent record in hiring coaches, the yellow-and-blue will probably end up once more settling for a mediocre substitute which it will replace not long after, as was the case with Erez Edelstein, Rami Hadar and Bagatskis.
There are obviously no guarantees when signing a coach. But Maccabi will not find a better fit than Shamir, who has both crucial experience of what it takes to succeed as a Maccabi head coach, a job like no other, while also still retaining the hunger of a coach who has yet to reach his prime.
Maccabi will surely conduct a thorough search across the globe for its next head coach. All the while, the perfect man for the job will sit just a few kilometers south of Yad Eliyahu Arena in Holon and continue to wait for a call.
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