Field Work: Aiming high

Brad Greenberg, a former NBA assistant coach and former NCAA head coach, says he has ‘high expectations’ for turning around the record of the Maccabi Haifa basketball team.

Considering Brad Greenberg’s resumé, it is hardly surprising that his signing as Maccabi Haifa’s new coach has met largely with raised eyebrows.
After all, why would a 58-year-old former NBA assistant coach, NBA general manager and NCAA Division I head coach take charge of one of Israeli basketball’s worst teams over the past couple of seasons? Greenberg is amazed the question is even coming up.
“I’m baffled at why people are surprised that I’m coming to coach Haifa,” he says in a conference call from Venezuela, where he works as the assistant coach for the local national team.
“I think that people should be proud about the quality of the Israeli league. I view this as an outstanding opportunity.
I’ve coached in all different levels, and I’ve always been a fan and advocate of international basketball.”
Though he has never even visited Israel, there is no mistaking his enthusiasm at having the chance to coach and live in the country.
“As an American Jew, [I’ve] always had in the back of my mind a desire to one day coach in Israel,” he says. “For me, this is a very exciting time and something I’m very anxious to do and proud I will be able to do.... This is not something which I think is a step down.”
Greenberg first hit the big time as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers for two seasons (1984-86) before moving to the New York Knicks (1987) for one year. In 1996, he became the general manager and vice president for basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers, drafting Allen Iverson as the No. 1 pick in the 1996 NBA draft. He went on to work with his brother Seth at Virginia Tech from 2003-07, after working as director of basketball operations at the University of South Florida from 2001 to 2003.
B e t w e e n 2007 and 2011, he coached at R a d f o r d University, but his tenure ended in acrimony and controversy. The National Collegiate A t h l e t i c s Association handed him a fiveyear, show-cause sanction in February 2011 and banned him from doing any recruiting during that period following an NCAA investigation.
The case initially focused on recruiting inducements and extra benefits, but it was the effort he allegedly led to mislead investigators that exacerbated the seriousness of the violations.
The sanctions effectively precluded Greenberg, who quit his job as coach at Radford at the end of the 2010/11 season amid the investigation, from working as a college coach during the following five years.
Last season, he worked as a head coach in Venezuela’s top division with Bucaneros De La Guaira, and he insists that his ban had nothing to do with his decision to come to Haifa.
“I’m honored to be the coach of Haifa,” he says. “I can’t wait to get to Israel.”
He believes his broad experience makes him particularly qualified for the position.
“I made the decision over a year ago to be very focused on professional basketball with a real strong desire to coach internationally,” he says. “You never know how things are going to [evolve], but if I had the opportunity to still be at Radford or be the coach of Haifa, that’s an easy decision.”
He knows he will have his work cut out for him with Haifa, which ended last season bottom of the BSL standings with a 5-19 record, but he is confident he will be able to turn things around.
“I always have high expectations,” he says. “And it’s good to always have high expectations. There’s no reason to build a team or coach a team if you don’t have high expectations. You have to set good goals, large goals. Any coach that doesn’t feel that way is not challenging himself and is not challenging his players.”
He acknowledges that “I don’t have all the answers to what took place in the last couple of years, but I watched enough games to see that the team wasn’t motivated on the defensive end as a good team has to be.”
Haifa handed him a two-year contract, and despite the team going through five coaches over the last three seasons, he is optimistic he will have the time he requires to guide the Greens back to prominence.
“I hope this will be a long-term project,” he says. “You never know how your future is going to unfold, but I’m not looking at this like I’m going to make a cameo appearance in Haifa. I want to build an elite team in Haifa that competes every year at the highest level both in Israel and in Europe.” His focus, he says, is “on trying to build something special the right way so it endures, and not that it is just a oneshot wonder. The goal is to build something sound and of quality... that the fans will want to identify with and will be proud of.”
Of course, considering the track record Haifa’s American owner Jeff Rosen has had with coaches in his five years as boss, Greenberg may not be around for as long as he might like.
However, he is entering the experience wholeheartedly, and whether he succeeds or fails, he will be one of the stories of the upcoming season in Israeli basketball.
“This is perfect,” he says. “This is not a couple of weeks where I’m taking a vacation. This is something where I’ll be part of the Haifa community and live the experience fully, and that is something that I’m very excited about.”