The Last Word: Short-term solutions are rarely the answer to coaching problems

A poor start to a campaign does not necessarily mean the coach is to blame and should be gotten rid of at the earliest opportunity.

Maccabi TA 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Maccabi TA 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
As has unfortunately been the case for many years, the first weeks and months of the basketball and soccer seasons have seen a glut of rash sackings which have left good quality coaches out of a job before they have had a chance to prove themselves. If only the chairmen and owners of prominent sports clubs in Israel had the sense to look towards the long-term rather than satisfying the baying calls of the fans after a few losses. The most prominent example has been the treatment of now ex-Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball coach Effi Birenboim, who was dumped on Monday and replaced with Pini Gershon. As much as a poor start to a campaign can be a cause for concern, it does not necessarily mean the coach is to blame and should be gotten rid of at the earliest opportunity. Those in charge should take a step back, think more carefully, and be reminded of the situation of Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson more than 20 years ago. It took Fergie nearly four years to win his first trophy, from when he took over at United in 1986 till 1990, when the team won the FA Cup. Although Man U finished in second place in the league in 1987, things didn't always go according to plan, and in 1989 the club ended the season in a disappointing 11th position. But the owners stuck with it and were handsomely rewarded. Nineteen years later Ferguson is not only still the manager of Man United, but the most successful ever in the illustrious history of the club. After winning the 1991 European Cup Winners Cup he never looked back, winning the Premier League 10 times since 1992 and in May this year led the team to its second Champions League title. Even though many columnists in the Israeli press have spoken out against the way Birenboim was treated, the majority have welcomed Gershon's appointment at Maccabi. However, if you look at how well his teams have done over more than a decade coaching in Israeli basketball, as well as his record in European and local league play this season, it appears to have been a foolish move to oust Birenboim. The yellow and blue is currently 2-2 in the Euroleague and top of the standings in the Israeli Basketball Super League with a 4-1 record. For sure, the embarrassing loss at Hapoel Jerusalem in the BSL last Thursday highlighted some of the problems that will have to be dealt with by the man in charge. But at the end of the day Tel Aviv chairman Shimon Mizrahi approved Birenboim's appointment in the summer and therefore should have given him an opportunity to work things out. It is understandable that as the winningest team in Israeli sports, the pressure on Maccabi Tel Aviv to be victorious every game is immense. However, the long-term future of the club is far more important than a couple of early season games, and it will now be impossible to know whether Birenboim would have been able to turn things around. The same can be said of Ran Ben-Shimon at Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer club. The management there decided way too quickly that the new coach wasn't the man for the job and brought in Avi Nimni, who fans expected to suddenly create a brand new super team. As we saw on Monday night, when Maccabi was humbled 2-0 in the all-important derby against Hapoel Tel Aviv, things haven't gone anywhere near as smoothly as the fans and owner had hoped. In direct contrast, although Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Eli Gutman didn't have a great season in 2007/08, the management let him continue and now the team is playing far better. The situation at Maccabi Tel Aviv's basketball and soccer clubs has been reflected all over, from Betar Jerusalem, where many fans are wishing Itzhak Shum had not been replaced by Reuven Atar in August, to Chelsea FC in London, where the performances of Luis Scolari's teams in the Champions League don't compare to those of Avraham Grant's. As the late, great Elvis Presley once sang so beautifully, "wise men say only fools rush in."