Is George Karl's Firing Proof NBA Coach of the Year Award Is a Jinx?

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Is George Karl's Firing Proof NBA Coach of the Year Award Is a Jinx?
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
George Karl becomes the fifth of the last eight Coach of the Year winners to lose his job within two years.

George Karl won the Coach of the Year Award after winning a Denver Nuggets' franchise-record 57 games this past season.

The response from the ivory tower?

Hmmmm, yeah, think we're going to pass.

Karl was seeking an extension to the one year remaining on his contract, but rather than a year as a lame-duck coach, Nuggets management relieved him of his duties Thursday.

Despite Karl being recognized this past season as the best coach in the game, the Nuggets were unwilling to commit to him.

"He is a Hall of Fame coach whose legacy in Denver will last for years to come. George is a legend in the game of basketball and I could not have more respect for him as a person and coach," team president Josh Kroenke said in a statement.

Nonsense. Those politically correct statements can be so ridiculous. He's a legend. His legacy will live for years to come.

Buuuuut...you're canning him.

The sad thing is, despite the firing being somewhat laughable, it's not shocking.

This is the kind of thing that happens to the lucky men who win Coach of the Year. The award continues to be a curse, as five of the last eight winners have been removed within two years.

Year won Coach Team Fired date
2005-06 Avery Johnson Dallas Mavericks April 30, 2008
2006-07 Sam Mitchell Toronto Raptors Dec. 3, 2008
2007-08 Byron Scott New Orleans Hornets Nov. 12, 2009
2008-09 Mike Brown Cleveland Cavaliers May 24, 2010
2009-10 Scott Brooks Oklahoma City Thunder Still with team
2010-11 Tom Thibodeau Chicago Bulls Still with team
2011-12 Gregg Popovich San Antonio Spurs Still with team
2012-13 George Karl Denver Nuggets June 6, 2013

Karl actually made light of the curse this past February.

From ESPN: "Karl had jokingly said during the season that he did not want to win the NBA's Coach of the Year award because of its long history of creating outsized expectations for teams that ultimately resulted in the coach getting fired within a year or two of winning the award."

While it's hard to explain the psychology behind the phenomenon, as each case for firing is different, it's clear that expectations on coaches are often met through postseason success, not regular-season accolades.

Karl is either gone because he never had playoff success or because they didn't want to pay him.

As Karl theorizes, expectations swell as a result of the individual honor. When they are not met with playoff success, the coach is blamed.

Karl had an overall record of 423-257 with the Nuggets, but this past season's opening-round loss to the Golden State Warriors was the eighth of his nine playoff appearances with the franchise that ended in the first round.

Still, only one of 30 teams can celebrate the ultimate success at the conclusion of each season, and coaches make the perfect fall guys.

Only Johnson's successor with the Mavericks, Rick Carlisle, brought further postseason success to his franchise after the Coach of the Year was fired.

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who finished second to Karl in voting this past season, said in May that he had not wanted the award, citing the jinx that comes with it.

USA Today quoted Spoelstra: "[most people were] aware of the stigma and the jinx. I'm not very superstitious, but all coaches and I think you guys understand that award. It's not quite as definitive as the (Sports Illustrated cover) jinx, but it's pretty close."

According to the same story, Spoelstra told USA Today: "... No coach wants to be a part of that. Every coach knows the history of it. I like my job. I hope I can keep this job for a long time. I'm not overly superstitious, but I'd rather not fall into that jinx that a lot of great coaches have fallen into."

It's hard to make sense of it, and now Karl is the latest example of a coach to fall victim to the curse.

The real victims may be the Nuggets, however.

Karl's departure follows that of NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri, who left for the Toronto Raptors.

Now, both the Coach of the Year and the Executive of the Year have departed a franchise that thrived because of strategy and system, not superstar talent.

The Nuggets offense was the highest-scoring unit in the league and led the NBA in points in the paint last season because of Karl's ability to mesh talent and take advantage of depth.

Now he's gone—just the latest example that the Coach of the Year award is a jinx.

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