This is my Wednesday column on what Brian Scalabrine’s demotion means. WARNING: This is a Warriors column. 49ers fans, feel free to skip this.
Mark Jackson doesn’t realize how weak he made himself look.
On Tuesday, Jackson dumped one of his assistant coaches – Brian Scalabrine. After dumping him, Jackson told reporters that he’s “just going in a different direction,” and that he and Scalabrine simply had a “difference of philosophies.” Whatever that means.
If that really is the case, why did Jackson take 71 games to think about philosophy? He was the one who hired Scalabrine in the first place. That was less than a year ago. If Jackson and Scalabrine had a philosophical difference, Jackson should have realized it before making the hire, or soon after.
Is a philosophical difference such a bad thing, anyway? It’s not like the difference was causing the Warriors’ season to fall apart. The Warriors were slumping before the All-Star break – didn’t play tough defense until the second half of games – but that is history. Post-All-Star break, the Warriors have played elite defense, ranking second in field-goal-percentage allowed, third in 3-point-percentage allowed and eighth in points-per-game allowed during the past 18 games.
If the Warriors still were slacking on defense and losing every other game like they were right before the All-Star break, then, sure, dump an assistant coach. Shake things up. But it makes no sense to do that and create a distraction when the team is winning and the playoffs are just 11 games away. This is the worst possible time to shake up a coaching staff. It takes the focus off the team and places it on possible dysfunction among the coaches.
Why did Jackson feel he had to remove Scalabrine from the Warriors’ bench right now? Jackson should have waited until after the season to get rid of him.
Jackson seems envious of the success and attention his assistant coaches get. It seems to trouble Jackson if any of his assistants gets known. Maybe Jackson feared Scalabrine would get the credit for the Warriors’ improvement on defense.
We know that last season Jackson did not get along with his top assistant coach, Mike Malone, who is now head coach of the Sacramento Kings. “Did Mark (Jackson) and I have a great relationship? No,” Malone recently told the San Francisco Chronicle. “There was definitely some friction. We worked through it, and he eventually realized that I wasn’t out there self-promoting.”
Jackson seems overly sensitive, maybe even insecure. Maybe Jackson thought Scalabrine was self-promoting, although I don’t know how he could have. It’s a fact that Jackson does not allow his assistant coaches to talk to print journalists. Strict code of silence. This is not generous to the assistants and seems almost weird.
Jim Harbaugh is generous to his assistants. He promotes them and lets them promote themselves. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio each talk to the media once a week during the season, and they talk after games in the locker room. Harbaugh constantly promotes Roman as a top head-coaching candidate in the NFL, and Harbaugh recently lobbied publicly for the 49ers to extend Fangio’s contract. They did.
Harbaugh isn’t threatened by the success of his assistants. He doesn’t seem worried that Roman or Fangio or anyone else will take his job.
Jackson seems almost paranoid. In Scalabrine’s case, maybe Jackson’s paranoia is justified.
The Warriors reportedly love Scalabrine. He played for Boston when Warriors’ owner Joe Lacob was a part-owner of the Celtics. And for 10 years, Scalabrine’s agent was the Warriors’ current general manager, Bob Myers.
Scalabrine was the up-and-coming coach on Jackson’s staff. Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau – one of the best coaches in the NBA – wanted to hire Scalabrine as an assistant coach in 2012, but Scalarbine instead became a broadcaster that season.
Even though Jackson wanted Scalabrine gone, the Warriors kept him – reassigned him to their D-League team in Santa Cruz. Scalabrine is still an assistant coach in the Warriors’ organization.
Usually when a head coach wants one of his assistants gone, he’s gone. Fired. Not Scalabrine. Warriors’ management would only satisfy Jackson to a limited extent. They want to keep Scalabrine, certainly not an endorsement of their coach. It feels like Scalabrine is double-parked, waiting to return.
If the Warriors get eliminated during the first round of the playoffs, you never know about Jackson’s future. Lacob and Myers might dump Jackson, who seems to have strife on his staff, and bring back Scalabrine as an assistant coach – as their up-and-coming assistant coach, and tell people they’re just going in another direction.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.