Athletes with the 'Coach Killer' Reputation

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2016

Athletes with the 'Coach Killer' Reputation

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    There are a lot of different things that athletes don't want to be associated with, and being labeled a "coach killer" would definitely be toward the top, as it's a slap to the player's reputation, as well as a toxic situation for teammates and fans.

    With the firing of David Blatt by the Cleveland Cavaliers a couple of weeks ago, there was a certain somebody—ahem, LeBron James—who caught heat for undermining his now-former boss.

    James vehemently denies doing anything wrong, but it did get me thinking about other players who have been slapped with the same criticism, digging deep to see which players may have gotten their coaches canned.

Phil Kessel

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    The one thing that we all have to keep in mind when considering an athlete as a coach killer is that it's never actually fair—even when it might be true.

    In the case of the Pittsburgh Penguins' Phil Kessel, his inclusion might not be as warranted as others on this list because he's not as mega a superstar, but the proof is there to for some to at least suggest it.

    Respected for his talents, Kessel isn't typically the most liked player in his dressing room, as he's been pushed out of places such as Boston and Toronto because some of his coaches just couldn't deal with him.

    Expected to be a star, when the right winger couldn't carry a team by himself, it was often his coach who had blame placed on him—which is why Kessel carries this reputation.

    Verdict: No, with gray area

2010 French National Soccer Team

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    Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

    Lucky to have even reached the World Cup in 2010 following a missed handball against Ireland during qualifying, the French national soccer team didn't take advantage of the lucky break once it finally landed in South Africa.

    Under the guidance of head coach Raymond Domenech, the entire team should accept blame for the country's soccer confederation canning the guy as fast as it could once Les Bleus walked off the pitch following their final defeat against the host country.

    Players such as Thierry Henry and Patrice Evra had illustrious careers, but they took part in a mutiny that embarrassed their own nation on the international stage—while costing Domenech his job.

    Verdict: Yes

Dwight Howard

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    He forced his way out of Orlando, clashed with teammates in Los Angeles and is now being talked about as, possibly, being shipped from Houston, according to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, so of course Dwight Howard deserves to be on this list.

    While with the Magic, the big man had that whole awkward encounter with reporters with then-head coach Stan Van Gundy—who lost his job because of Howard—and then, after the team believed D12 would re-up with it rather than force his hand, demanded a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers.

    And though Dwight isn't the megastar he was once considered to be now that he's on the Houston Rockets, he still had a hand in getting former head coach Kevin McHale fired early this 2015-16 season, so his reputation precedes him.

    Verdict: Yes

Rogers Hornsby

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    Baseball Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby is considered to be one of the most iconic St. Louis Cardinals players to ever suit up for the franchise, but even he caused major headaches for at least one of his managers.

    The one in question was Jack Hendricks, who took over the managerial role after his predecessor, Miller Huggins, left for greener pastures when the New York Yankees gave him a bunch of money before the 1918 season.

    While Hornsby had grown attached to Huggins, he clashed with Hendricks, disliking his new boss for a number of reasons, including never playing much pro baseball and having gone to a big-time college such as Northwestern.

    In the lone season in which these two were together, Hornsby boldly said he would never play for the franchise if Hendricks remained manager—so the Cards canned the man in favor of the iconic Hornsby.

    Verdict: Yes

Dominik Hasek

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    PETER COSGROVE/Associated Press

    After helping guide his Buffalo Sabres to the playoffs during the 1996 NHL season, reigning Vezina Trophy winner Dominik Hasek found himself getting booed by the home crowd.

    While some may have found that idiotic, the reason was a fair one, as Buffalo fans knew about the growing tension between Hasek and head coach Ted Nolan, whom the goaltender skated past without recognition following an injury during the '96 postseason.

    After Hasek openly said during an awards press conference that he didn't want Nolan back as coach in Buffalo, the organization listened to its star, trying to save face by offering its coach a one-year deal—even though it knew he would reject it—and hiring Lindy Ruff to replace him.

    Sometimes, yep, the star sure is bigger than the franchise.

    Verdict: Yes

LeBron James

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    He's the most polarizing athlete on the planet, so anytime something big happens to LeBron James—like his head coach getting fired despite success—it's going to find its way to be talked about a lot.

    Look, do I believe that David Blatt caught a bad rap from James during his one-and-a-half seasons leading the Cleveland Cavs, which included a trip to the NBA Finals last season and, at the time of his firing, the team sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings? Yeah, I actually do.

    But, with the Cavs in win-now mode thanks to a talented and expensive roster, the franchise needs to pamper LeBron as much as possible before his title window closes for good—even if that means making unpopular decisions.

    Many will say that James is a coach killer because of Blatt—and, given LeBron's previous relationships with coaches, he may well be—but this is the first time his coach was fired with the feeling that he absolutely requested it, so I'm not quite ready to strap the label on him yet.

    Verdict: No

Jay Cutler

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    What makes this an intriguing argument is that Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler isn't as great as he probably should be, which sort of compromises the whole coach killer definition—as many athletes who carry the stigma are superstars who force a coach out because they know they hold all the chips as the face of the franchise.

    In Cutler's case, he gets the reputation of a coach killer because he continues to fall short of expectations, as the Bears keep giving him shot after shot with the hope that he'll figure it out under the guidance of a new boss.

    Cutler doesn't viciously state that he wants a coach canned, but, in the NFL, rarely do overpaid players—especially at quarterback—get released because of a bad season, as the coaching staff usually gets blamed.

    Verdict: Yes, but indirectly

Reggie Jackson

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Known as "Mr. October" because of his clutch hitting in the postseason, baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson also earned himself a reputation for getting into disagreements with at least one of his managers, Billy Martin.

    While he and Martin did win a World Series together with the New York Yankees in 1977, many were probably shocked the relationship between the two lasted that long, as, almost immediately after signing a big-time deal with the Yanks in 1976, Martin didn't like Jackson's boisterous personality.

    Yes, Martin was fired directly because the team—particularly George Steinbrenner—preferred the slugger over his manager. But Martin and The Boss also weren't the best of friends, so it wasn't all on Jackson.

    Verdict: An influenced yes

Eric Lindros

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    Tom Mihalek/Associated Press

    Former NHL All-Star Eric Lindros was a great player who just couldn't stay healthy, but there were some who also saw how much of a jerk the hotshot could be—with one former NHL ref penning a story to describe his experience.

    As feisty and entitled as Lindros was, it was just a matter of time until he found himself clashing with a head coach—which happened with the Philadelphia Flyers and then-coach Terry Murray.

    Following a major shouting match with the entire team, Murray singled out Lindros and a couple of other Flyers stars for their lack of effort, causing major tension in the locker room.

    Feeling betrayed, rumor has it that some of the players, including Lindros, spoke with management about replacing Murray—which the team did following a sweep in the Stanley Cup final.

    Verdict: Yes

Kobe Bryant

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers his entire career, Kobe Bryant has had his fair share of moments in which he's shown that he is the franchise and that the front office will do close to anything he demands.

    In his prime, some of that happened to be about the roster, but other times it was about the head coach, as Bryant knew that anything less than a championship was considered a lost season.

    After pushing fellow superstar Shaquille O'Neal out of L.A., the franchise knew that it needed to make a decision between Bryant and then-head coach Phil Jackson—who, at the time, didn't get along with the superstar.

    Rather than risk seeing the Black Mamba leave via free agency, the Lakers decided to give Bryant what he wanted, cutting ties with Jackson before the 2004 season—before, ultimately, bringing him back and winning two more titles.

    Verdict: Yes

John Elway

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    Ed Andrieski/Associated Press

    The mastermind behind the current Denver Broncos' run to two Super Bowl appearances in the past three seasons, John Elway used to be the quarterback hoping to be in the position of winning rings.

    And, when paired with Dan Reeves, Elway found that his goal to win titles may have been undercut by Reeves.

    Sure, the two guided Denver to three Super Bowls in four years, but for a variety of reasons—such as Reeves' firing Elway's favorite offensive coordinator, Mike Shanahan, the coach's taking over play-calling duties and, the final straw, the team's selecting a QB in the 1992 draft—Elway just couldn't take Reeves anymore.

    While Elway may have never marched directly to the owner's office to demand Reeves be replaced, when the team did move on from him, the feeling was that the signal-caller influenced it in a major way.

    Verdict: Yes

Magic Johnson

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    Marty Lederhandler/Associated Press

    Arguably the most famous instance of a player getting a head coach canned came when former Los Angeles Lakers superstar Magic Johnson demanded the front office do something about Paul Westhead.

    The two won an NBA title in their first year together, but things quickly went sour afterward.

    Following a dispute with Westhead, things got so heated that Magic actually requested a trade if Westhead wasn't fired, stating that the offensive strategy the coach implemented, the triangle offense, was too slow for Johnson's abilities.

    While owner Jerry Buss also complained about the lack of excitement from the team's offense, Westhead was fired, largely, because that's what Magic Johnson wanted.

    Verdict: Yes