Yes On L

All-Time Worst

Kings coaches, mediocre to horrible

By R.E. Graswich
February 2022

They have tried everything. Their 30 coaches represent a vast spectrum of styles, trends and personalities. The Kings hired nice guys and jerks, city slickers, county hicks, former all-stars, benchwarmers and guys who couldn’t bounce a basketball. They have brought in drunks and abstainers, smokers and health nuts.

At times, the Kings assumed tall men made good coaches. Their tallest was 6-foot-10. When that didn’t work, they went small and hired coaches who stood 5-10. Small failed. They tried innovative coaches. They embraced traditionalists who believed NBA victories would come from practicing bounce passes. All were fired.

Now a hard question: With Harrison and Adelman obvious picks as the best coaches in franchise history, who among the rogue’s gallery can be christened as the worst? For my money, it’s Bill Russell.

I’m not objective. I covered Russell as a reporter during his Kings years and found him miserable. And I wasn’t around to witness coaching disasters under Bob Cousy or Jack McKinney, spectacular failures during the team’s vagrancy years as it bounced from Cincinnati to Omaha and Kansas City.

Cousy had the decency to admit his mistakes. He explained, “I did it for the money.” McKinney was a tragic story. The Kings hired him in 1984, a year before they moved to Sacramento.

The hopelessness of McKinney’s appointment was clear to everyone but Kings management. Five years earlier, a bicycle accident nearly killed the former Lakers coach. Flying over handlebars, he banged his head and suffered brain damage. A broken man suffering from memory lapses, McKinney lasted nine games.

The Russell entanglement did serious long-term damage. Russell convinced the Kings they needed a basketball legend to establish credibility, build success and teach players secrets known only to champions.

With 11 championships, his pitch made sense to gullible ears. Russell was rewarded with a lengthy contract to coach and eventually run the Kings as president. Coincidentally, he was in financial trouble and needed a job. The contract brought laughter across the NBA.

Russell was aggressively incompetent. His strategies were incoherent as he babbled about the horizontal vs. vertical game. He had no interest in preparing for opponents. His main concern at practice was a pot full of coffee prepared by trainer Billy Jones. After a few sips, Russell often closed his eyes and napped at courtside.

He was fired after 58 games and just 17 wins. Thanks to his contract, his dismissal was a promotion. Russell became general manager. He filled many days with golf.

He wasted the No. 1 draft pick in 1988 on Pervis “Out of Service” Ellison, who was injured most of his rookie season and soon traded into oblivion. Among the players not chosen by Russell were Sean Elliott, Glen Rice, Tim Hardaway and Shawn Kemp—all-stars every one.

In retirement, Russell rehabilitated his image. He received honorary degrees and was honored by presidents. His years with the Kings were forgotten.

But life is a circle. Current Kings coach Alvin Gentry is doomed with guards racing up the floor launching three pointers. Ironically, poor Jack McKinney originated a similar style with the Lakers. It was called Showtime and featured a guard named Earvin “Magic” Johnson, plus some other guys. They had a coach, but hardly needed him.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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