When should a team fire a head coach?
That may be the most difficult question a professional sports organization has to make.
Now in their fifth season in the bj-league, the Niigata Albirex BB still have the same coach, Masaya Hirose, at the helm.
Hirose guided the Albirex to the title game against the Osaka Evessa in April 2006. They qualified for the playoffs in each of the next three seasons, but failed to advance past the first round in any of those postseasons.
(“One and done” is hardly a characteristic any team wants its fans to think of as its trademark.)
This season, Hirose’s team is 2-6 and has shown little evidence of being a squad that’s capable of reaching the Final Four or contending for a championship.
Maybe now is the time for Niigata’s front office to considering making a change.
Simply put, the team needs to begin a winning streak.
If the Albirex fall to 2-8 after this weekend’s two-game series against the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, they’ll have three weeks of down time to plot their strategy for a busy December.
Six games under .500 is a psychologically intimidating number at this stage of the season; a 4-6 record would be much more uplifting for Hirose, his staff and the team’s players.
Is it too early to assume that Hirose’s team can’t turn things around?
But plenty of coaches, members of the team’s staff or qualified out-of-work coaches, would be willing to step in and do their best to revive this struggling squad.
Since I began covering the bj-league in the fall of 2006, only one team, the Toyama Grouses, has made an in-season coaching move. Last November, the Grouses fired head coach Masato Fukushima after a 3-7 start, then Hirokazu Nema took over for a few weeks before Takatoshi Ishibashi finished out the season as the bench boss.
All together, the three coaches compiled an 11-41 record. And now Charles Johnson has the new-look Grouses (5-5) in the hunt for a playoff spot.
In my dealings with the Albirex, Hirose has been friendly, approachable for interviews in person or on the telephone and appears to be a good team representative in the community. Furthermore, he seems to generally care about teaching basketball to the youth.
All of these are admirable traits. But do they make somebody a successful coach?
I don’t expect the Albirex to make any quick decisions. I don’t believe Hirose’s job is on the line if his team loses both games against the Phoenix this weekend.
But Niigata’s front office should begin weighing the pros and cons of its current coaching staff.
Maybe a change is needed.
Maybe Hirose is a fine teacher, but a mediocre motivator in the fourth quarter.
Maybe he’s a strong X’s and O’s guy, but a below-average communicator.
Maybe his substitution patterns defy logic.
I, for one, find it odd that rising star Akitomo Takeno wasn’t named a starter before the team’s first game. He continues to play limited minutes (less than 20 minutes in four of eight games) and remains a backup point guard.
Strange as it may be, starting point guard Makoto Hasegawa has only played 60 minutes.
Takeno, who turns 24 next Tuesday, is an offensive catalyst. In 2008-09, his second season in the league, Takeno scored 13.0 points per game, made a pulse-rising 41.0 percent of his 3-point shots (109-for-264) and 89.4 percent of his free throws (126-for-141).
I witnessed Takeno’s unique talents and potential last winter, and it was a convincing display. On that night, Feb. 4 to be precise, Takeno had an unbelievable shooting performance. He was 8-for-8 from the field, including five makes from 3-point range, and 5-for-5 from the charity stripe in a 26-point performance against the Tokyo Apache at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.
Takeno deserves a shot to be a go-to player, not an apprentice.
Hirose and Niigata’s front office need to see the big picture: Takeno is a special talent and one of the most exciting Japanese players in the nation. He should be the cornerstone of the team’s present and future plans. Therefore, since he’s at an age when a player of his caliber needs more playing time to properly develop, the team needs to figure out a way to give it to him.
If Hirose isn’t willing or able to make this happen, someone else deserves a chance to do so.