The Saitama Broncos have been consistently bad or mediocre since the bj-league’s inception in 2005. Despite being one of the league’s two original teams, along with Niigata’s JBL-defecting squad, the Broncos have never managed to finish above .500 and never advanced to the playoffs.
Now, their latest coaching casualty, Dean Murray, who was in charge until Nov. 23, when he was shown the door by team officials, claims his firing was due to bogus reasons. His replacement, Natalie Nakase, the first female head coach in league history, is a former UCLA point guard.
The team, which was 6-10 entering this weekend’s series against the Niigata Albirex BB and ninth in the 10-team Eastern Conference, issued a news release on Nov. 24 in which it said there was a “serious breach” of his contract.
Murray, a former NBA Development League coach, spoke to The Japan Times after his dismissal. He disputed the team’s claims.
“It is obvious the team wanted to make a coaching change for whatever reason,” the 47-year-old Murray said. “I am OK with that. I have been in this business a long time, but do not make up these excuses not to pay me, because that is all they were — just some excuses.”
League spokesman Akihiro Ejima declined to comment on what was said during two recent meetings attended by Murray, Saitama president Toshihiko Narita and bj-league commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi. The Broncos did not respond to requests to issue a comment about those meetings or Murray’s claims.
The Broncos entered this season with a 93-173 record over six seasons. In that time, 14 new bj-league franchises have entered the league and one — the Tokyo Apache — has left. Charles Johnson, Kenji Yamane, David Benoit, Masato Fukushima and Bob Nash have all had a crack at turning the club into a winner. All failed and moved on to other opportunities.
Now, Murray is left to shake his head at what he considers two ridiculous reasons for his ouster.
He said the first reason cited on paper was that “the coach has made some noises until late night and disturbed a neighbor.”
No. 2, he said, was “the coach did not wear the club’s official supply suit provided by the club sponsor during an official game on Nov. 19, 2011.”
The issue over noise, Murray insisted, was an incident that was totally blown out of proportion.
“A neighbor called the office and complained about some noise in my apartment the night before,” Murray said. “The neighbor never identified herself and at no time did the team ever call me in for a meeting about it. Narita said, ‘It was probably some old woman who did not like sports,’ and he never said another word to me about it. He said he understood, he laughed about it, also too this was back in September.
“Never, ever did police come to my house . . . it was nothing . . . just me sitting in my apartment.”
As far as the suit goes, Murray said he never knew there was an expectation to where an official sponsor’s suit for the aforementioned game.
“At no time did anyone from our management or team say to me that the official sponsor would be at the game that night and I should wear the suit during the game,” Murray said. “I was wearing my personal suit an hour before the game, went out on the main court before the game, gave my pregame speech in my personal suit and not one person said that I should put a different suit on.
“Narita called me out in the locker room after the game in front of the team, as unprofessional a thing as I have ever seen in my life, and asked me why I had broke a team rule. My answer was ‘Excuse me? What are you talking about?’
“It was a total misunderstanding about the suit and I said as much after the (Nov. 19) game. I would never intentionally not wear the suit if the team had asked me to wear it . . . That is the reason why I was suspended after the Toyama game and that led to my firing — not wearing a suit.
“They did not even tell me to wear it,” he continued.
“Narita’s exact words to me after the game in private (through a translator) were, ‘You should have known to wear it.’ “
Murray characterized this wardrobe episode by saying, “what a joke. It was the team’s fault and they tried to save face with the sponsor and fans by saying on the website. I had ‘a severe breach of contract.’ “
In Murray’s view, this is false.
Several league sources have told The Japan Times that former NBA point guard Kenny Satterfield didn’t see eye to eye with Murray. Murray is no longer on the team, but Satterfield remains a Bronco. Which leads one to believe that Narita sided with Satterfield, the league’s leader in assists (7.7 per game).
“I wanted to cut a player because of insubordination the weekend of the Okinawa series (Nov. 5-6),” Murray said, without directly naming Satterfield. “(Narita) agreed to cut the player on Sunday night after me and the assistant coach (Natalie) were adamant the player had to be cut, but then Narita went back on his word on Tuesday. Then I wanted to suspend and fine the player, but nothing happened. Narita just swept it under the rug.”
Murray described the incident this way: “It was a case of where we had a player who refused to play in a game that he did not start. When he was asked to go in he would not. The player even removed his game jersey and cut his ankle tape at halftime during the halftime speech with no explanation to the coaches or trainer.”
Another incident showed the disconnect between Murray and Narita in mid-November.
“It was a team rule that Narita gave to the team: Everyone has to ride the team bus,” Murray said. “But he (Narita) denied another player and allowed the same player who was insubordinate the weekend earlier to ride back in a car (from Hamamatsu)and not on the team bus.”
“. . .Narita always said he would support me,” Murray continued. “But when it came time to make a move on a player because of a discipline situation he backed down, and once that situation occurred, it makes it very difficult for a coach.”
The Broncos’ lousy start this season is partly due to the team’s lack of frontcourt depth. Entering this weekend, 203-cm power forward Jayme Miller hadn’t played a minute. To compound the problem, Murray said, the team would not commit to spending the money needed to give Miller the proper timetable for his recovery.
“He needed a walking boot for part of his rehabilitation, but the team would not buy it because they did not agree with the diagnosis from Miller’s doctor in the (United) States,” Murray said.
“Jayme Miller ended up buying the boot himself, and it slowed his return by at least 2-3 weeks while he was waiting on a boot to be shipped from the States.”
Former Bronco Isaac Sojourner, who played for the franchise during its JBL2 championship days nearly a decade ago and had a second stint with the club a few years ago, said nothing surprises him about the way Narita runs the club.
“I didn’t say it wouldn’t happen,” Sojourner said. “(As for Narita), he has no idea what he is doing, and karma is a (expletive). He will never learn though, and Saitama will continue to be insignificant because of it. Damn shame really, though.”