"I'll never make the mistake of being seventy again." - Casey Stengel
In the case of Marynell Meadors, she'd fall one year short.
Marynell Meadors' tenure as head coach and general manager of the Atlanta Dream was officially ended as of August 27, 2012, exactly 69 years after Meadors was born. Meadors was the oldest coach in the WNBA and the last remaining active coach from the inaugural 1997 season when she coached the Charlotte Sting.
She was Atlanta's first head coach, and until Monday, its only head coach.
Three years ago, Marynell Meadors was the WNBA Coach of the Year. This year, Meadors was an assistant coach on the US Women's Olympic Team. But now, former Dream assistant coach Fred Williams was named to replace Marynell Meadors. He will wear both hats, serving as both head coach and GM for the foreseeable future.
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"If you do not define yourself, someone else will." - public relations maxim
The press release from the Atlanta Dream - like many such releases from the WNBA - is more noteworthy for what it doesn't say than what it does. (FullCourt.com would later get confirmation from Tonya Alleyne, the Dream's Senior Director of Marketing and Communications, that Meadors was "released by ownership".)
The facts are recounted appropriately. Williams in, Meadors out. However, there is nothing said in the initial release as to whether Meadors left voluntarily or not. Usually, the matter will be glossed over by an owner saying, "we decided to move in another direction".
Of course, others were quick to fill in the gaps. You can say what you want about Geno Auriemma, the head coach of the Connecticut Huskies, but like Howard Cosell you can never say that he won't tell it exactly like he thinks it is.
To put it in police procedural speak, Geno not only stated that there was a crime, but helpfully supplied a motive:
@genoauriemma @marynellmeaders gets fired atlanta owners cave in inmate in charge #coachingisaBitch
So who is the "inmate in charge"? The number one suspect would have to be Angel McCoughtry, who has had a troubled relationship with her (now former) head coach.
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"This team, it all flows from me. I'm the straw that stirs the drink. Maybe I should say me and (Thurman) Munson, but he can only stir it bad." - Reggie Jackson
espnW reporter Mechelle Voepel added her perspective:
@MechelleV (Mechelle Voepel) Well, something had to give in Atlanta: Decision was made to fire the head coach. At least we know who's really in charge now w/ Dream.
The most recent trouble between Angel McCoughtry and Marynell Meadors started sometime between Atlanta's 86-72 loss to Indiana - where McCoughtry scored 22 points on 8-for-19 shooting - and the first home game in Atlanta after the Olympic break. There had been no basketball at Philips Arena in almost two months when Angel McCoughtry did play in the game against Chicago on August 22nd. She was there before the game to receive an award honoring her, but not only did not dress for the game but did not even sit with the team on its bench, instead sitting on the opposite side of the floor. Basketball writer Richard B. Cohen stated that McCoughtry was sitting opposite the Chicago Sky bench, whereas Yelena Leuchanka - who also did not dress for the game - sat with the rest of the team.
"She's day to day. We're very hopeful that she gets back pretty soon." - this was Meadors's quote from the Associated Press.
McCoughtry would not be back for the road game with Washington, either. There was no return for Angel McCoughtry until the next Atlanta home game against the Minnesota Lynx on Saturday, where the Dream lost 84-74 with McCoughtry coming off the bench, scoring 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting.
End of the matter, right? Well, clearly not, considering the news from the Dream front office on Monday.
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"It ain't bragging if you can do it." - Dizzy Dean
So what happened? Without further information, one can imagine three different scenarios for what exactly happened.
Scenario #1: The owners decided to fire Meadors on their own. This is the "we decided to move in another direction" scenario.
This scenario fails the smell test for several reasons. You have a coach who has taken the Atlanta Dream to the WNBA Finals two years in a row and it might not be impossible to get their three straight years with a bit of luck. (Remember Tamika Catchings's injury?) Furthermore, the coach has just won an Olympic medal.
It would also be very bad form to decided to change horses a) so late in the season, and b) on the victim's birthday. If the owners were really moving in another direction, they would have waited until the end of the season before dropping the axe. You only fire a coach in mid-season when you must.
Scenario #2: Meadors presents an ultimatum to the Dream ownership. "You can either let me trade Angel McCoughtry before the trade deadline, or I'm out of here. Either she goes or I go."
Generally, this would be a bad decision. It's much easier to replace a coach than it is a star player. I think that Meadors is too smart not to know that. This ain't her first trip to the rodeo. There is the outside possibility, however, that Meadors might have thrown up her hands and said, "Why not make the ultimatum? Worst that can happen is that they fire me, and at this point, it might be a blessing."
Scenario #3: McCoughtry presents an ultimatum to the Dream ownership. "If you don't get rid of Marynell Meadors, I'll demand a trade."
This one passes the likelihood test for a number of reasons. Meadors and McCoughtry have clashed for all four seasons that McCoughtry has been with the Dream. The Dream faced the real danger that McCoughtry would demand a trade or otherwise make their lives miserable if she didn't get what she wanted. Caught between Scylla and Charybdis, they chose McCoughtry the whirlpool over Meadors the rock.
And besides, it might turn out for the best. McCoughtry might be happy for a few more months. Fred Williams might get his shot at the brass ring. It might even turn out well for McCoughtry. Didn't Magic Johnson get Paul Westhead fired? And no one thinks the less of Magic Johnson now, do they?
But the Dream ownership should remember the Rudyard Kipling poem called "Dane-Geld". It might prove valuable advice in the month's ahead.
As for the rest of the season, it now becomes a referendum on both Angel McCoughtry and Fred Williams. I've said for years that "winning lifts all boats" - you can overlook a lot if you win games. A team can hate each other - think of the Yankees in the 70s - but if the wins are coming everyone will be happy. If the Dream go back to the Finals, no one is going to care about what happened in August. If the Dream win it all, the fans definitely won't care.
But if the Dream lose under the new regime, then what? Think about the Minnesota Lynx. Two years ago, they were a joke, but now the Lynx are respected and feared. How did that happen? They won a lot of basketball games. Winning lifts all boats....
...and losing sinks them. A team can go from champs to chumps just as easily as it can go in the other direction. Let us hope that the stars on the Atlanta Dream uniform are rising ones, and not falling ones.