Ginebra’s coaching carousel

Posted at 01/06/2013 1:55 PM

For a team as proud and enjoying as much crowd support as Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, the head coaching position is seen as one of the most prestigious spots, particularly when one considers who once held it.

That was the post that the PBA’s own “Living Legend,” Sonny Jaworski, made his own for over a decade, placing the “never-say-die” attitude that most have equated with the franchise since. When “The Big J” resigned from his spot as Ginebra coach in 1999, many have tried filling his massive shoes with different levels of success.

Filling the Big J’s Shoes

From Allan Caidic to Rino Salazar to Siot Tanquingcen to Jong Uichico and back to Tanquingcen, the PBA’s most popular team just hasn’t had the same level of stability at the helm that it did during Jaworski’s tenure. Now, Tanquingcen has been demoted to lead assistant coach, while “coaching consultant” Alfrancis Chua has been tasked to be the new Ginebra coach.

Why all this change and instability for the Gin Kings?

You can blame the larger than life presence of Jaworski himself, as most were under the impression that the only way he would ever leave Ginebra was of his own accord. One can also blame the ownership of San Miguel Corp., as they’ve treated the post with essentially the same attitude with another of their teams, the Petron Blaze Boosters.

In fact, among the SMC-owned teams, it is only San Mig Coffee with clear stability at head coach thanks to the hiring of multi-titled and 24-year coaching veteran Tim Cone in 2010.

Just as Petron has juggled Ato Agustin, Olsen Racela and Rajko Toroman in recent seasons, so has San Miguel Corp. done the same for Barangay Ginebra.

Rigodon de coach

It’s this practice of keeping a certain number of coaches within one’s “family” that the other major ownership group in the PBA, led by Manny V. Pangilinan, has been adapting for themselves.

Case in point, when Chot Reyes was tasked by the MVP-supported Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas (SBP) to coach the SMART-Gilas National Team, Reyes finished his duties as coach of MVP’s Talk ‘N Text. That spot was subsequently filled by erstwhile Ateneo Blue Eagles coach Norman Black.

Meanwhile, Black was followed to Loyola Heights by another MVP guy, Bo Perasol. And after Ronnie Magsanoc finished his lone year coaching at San Beda to return as assistant coach with Meralco, Boyet Fernandez moved from NLEX in the PBA D-League to handle the Red Lions.

This virtual “rigodon” of coaches for both the SMC teams and MVP-supported squads is interesting for any follower of local hoops. One can argue that it increases the pressure on each coach to win, and win immediately because there’s always someone within “the family” ready to fill their spot.

The changes also further highlight the rivalry between the SMC and MVP groups in nearly every level of local basketball.

Siot down, Alfrancis up

For Bethune “Siot” Tanquingcen, his removal from his post as Ginebra coach is a blow to the career of someone who has already won two PBA titles as coach. Ever the dutiful soldier, he has gone where his SMC bosses have told him to go, whether it be with Ginebra or the then-San Miguel Beermen (now Petron). He even took on the role of “co-coach” with his mentor, Jong Uichico, in 2011 (though Uichico says that Tanquingcen was actually in charge then.

Tanquingcen is loyal to a fault and in this instance, the pressure of providing at least a Finals appearance for the Gin Kings doomed him. Taking the high road, however, Tanquingcen has expressed gratitude to Ginebra management and the fans for their support while he was coach.

Loaded roster

After trading for LA Tenorio, drafting Chris Ellis and trading Mike Cortez for Yousef Taha, team executives led by current PBA chairman Robert Non believed the Kings would contend for the Philippine Cup. Instead, after pushing Rain or Shine to a deciding third game in the quarterfinals, they were blown out by the Elasto Painters.

Describing the move as “pahiyang,” Non pulled the trigger and promoted former Tanduay and Sta. Lucia mentor Alfrancis Chua to head coach. It is a grand chance for redemption for Chua after crashing and burning in his last stint for the defunct Realtors. Fiery and notorious for trashtalking, Chua brings his trademark ponytail and swagger to a team with aging veterans in Mark Caguioa and Jayjay Helterbrand, as well as seemingly redundant pieces in Rico Maierhofer, Billy Mamaril and the benched Kerby Raymundo.

Ginebra last won a title under Uichico in the 2008 Fiesta Conference. A team with a rabid fanbase like the Gin Kings has watched Talk ‘N Text, San Mig Coffee and Rain or Shine emerge as champions and new contenders in recent tournaments. Even a comparatively young squad like Alaska has made the semifinals of the current Philippine Cup.

These are the facts facing Chua as he begins his stint on the Ginebra bench. The question now is, can he step into the fabled virtual sneakers of “The Big J” and take the Gin Kings back to the promised land of a PBA Championship?