It only took one game – one horrible 28-point debut loss – for the winds of change to blow through Melbourne United.
The official spin word out of Melbourne United HQ is that Anstey has stepped aside of his own free will.
“The message wasn’t getting through, and there needs to be a shake-up,” Anstey is quoted as saying in United’s carefully constructed media release.
“There have been little signs over the past few weeks that it’s not quite right and we haven’t clicked.”
That lack of cohesiveness was on show yesterday at Hisense Arena.
The United players lacked vigour, intensity, togetherness and, at times, structure.
Aaron Fearne’s changing defences seemed to confuse them, an issue made worse by the absence of import point guard Stephen Dennis; sidelined due to a niggling knee injury.
The result was a lack of offensive production, marked by a disastrous 8/34 shooting clip from long range. United attempted 58 field goals yesterday, 58.6% of them were from downtown – a new NBL record.
That’s all good if you’re making them, but when you’re hitting on less than 24% of that many 3-point attempts it’s a clear sign of a team failing to execute and settling for low percentage looks.
One United player whom Anstey’s message had not failed to get to is Mark Worthington. The former Boomer and soon-to-be-announced team co-captain has a tight bond with Anstey and was arguably United’s best and most competitive player yesterday.
But he was evidently outnumbered.
Nonetheless, United CEO Vince Crivelli and owners Michael Slepoy and Larry Kestelman couldn’t possibly have learnt enough in yesterday’s game to suggest that Anstey was the man for the job on Saturday but not on Monday.
Surely they knew. And in a club environment, if the front office knows it never comes as much of a surprise to the Head Coach.
Anstey had coached the club (as the Melbourne Tigers) for the past two seasons, leading them back to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009.
The obvious question, therefore, is why enter a season with a Head Coach whose “message wasn’t getting through” and the club believes may not be the man for job?
The fact is that it’s beyond unusual for a Head Coach of an NBL team (or any professional sporting club for that matter) to depart after just one regular season game.
Alan Black came close in 1990, shown the door by Perth after only two games.
Bill Runchey didn’t even get to the regular season in 1988, fired by Geelong Supercats after failing to win a game in the ‘Cats six preseason games. Not that his replacement, Pete Mathieson, did any better – Geelong went 0-24 that year; the only club in NBL history to suffer a winless season.
Anstey was visibly shaken after yesterday’s loss and spoke to the media about his frustration with the playing group and their approach.
“It’s nothing we’re doing, it’s the way we’re doing it,” Anstey said postgame.
Just as the United players lacked vigour on the floor, Anstey lacked his usual spice in front of the microphone. He clearly knew what today’s morning-after meeting with Crivelli would involve.
That meeting took place and then the Melbourne United players were informed of Anstey’s departure in a meeting at team headquarters this afternoon.
Darryl McDonald, Anstey’s lead assistant for the past two seasons, will take over as Head Coach on an interim basis.
The search for a new Head Coach, however, has already begun with former NBL Championship winning coach Rob Beveridge sure to be among the names at the top of United’s wish list.
Beveridge spent four years as Head Coach of the Perth Wildcats, leading the powerhouse club to the 2010 title as well as two other Grand Final appearances in 2012 and 2013.
After departing the Wildcats, Beveridge coached the Shanghai Sharks in the Chinese Basketball Association and has since started an international coaching consultancy company specialising in player development and coach mentoring.
He is the precise type of leader this star-studded United group needs; someone with a proven track record at the NBL level. His no-nonsense approach, combined with his extensive international and domestic experience, would work well with this roster.
Common sense would suggest that Crivelli will also be placing calls to former NBL and Australian Boomers coach Brian Goorjian.
In an NBL coaching career spanning twenty years, Goorjian won six championships; two with the South East Melbourne Magic, three with the Sydney Kings and one with the South Dragons in 2009.
Goorjian will be tough to land this season, however, as he is currently completing the final year of his contract with the Dongguan Leopards in the Chinese Basketball Association.
It is the second time McDonald has taken on interim Head Coaching duties over recent years, having stepped into the big chair at the Melbourne Tigers following Al Westover’s firing in February 2011.
Simon Mitchell, Head of Basketball Operations at Frankston Basketball Association, will be stepping into the role of lead Assistant.
Mitchell, who has also spent time at both Knox Basketball and Southern Basketball (Sandringham Sabres), observed United’s disappointing debut performance from a VIP courtside seat yesterday afternoon. His pad full of notes will come in handy immediately as he begins his new role with the NBL’s newest club.
“In the meantime, we will be combing the world, looking for the best possible person to coach CTI Melbourne United,” CEO Crivelli said in the team’s media release.
After ditching the Tigers name, turning over half of the roster and removing the Head Coach one game into the new season, the winds of change have been blowing with alarming regularity around Melbourne’s only professional ball club these past 6 months. When the dust settles this time around, here’s hoping for calm weather ahead.
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