Coaching in Greece: A cutthroat business

With less than 10 rounds of league play completed in the A1, Greece’s top-tier basketball competition, a total of six clubs have severed ties with their coaches. Angelos Koronios was the first to go, from AEK. Minas Gekos, at Panionios, was next. Then, on the very same day, two more coaches, Darko Ruso of Maroussi and Stergios Koufos of AGO Rethymnon, were added to the departure list. Panellinios’s Giorgos Kalafatakis became the fifth victim and finally – for the time being, at least – Tab Baldwin was fired at PAOK after seven defeats in eight games. Considering the A1 league’s status as one of Europe’s strongest, the fickleness does astonish. Kalafatakis’s departure from Panellinios came as a surprise. The downtown Athens club had made an impressive start to the season with six wins from as many league games, but defeats in European competition and two succeeding domestic losses led to his unanticipated end. «I don’t think anybody really believes that I left Panellinios for performance-related reasons,» said Kalafatakis, who, since taking over the team last season, built a sturdy track record of 21 wins and eight defeats. «My contract expired on June 30 and, since then, I’d been up in the air. They kept postponing a renewed deal until I finally left,» he continued. The vagueness, Kalafatakis argued, led to his end at Panellinios. «You can’t produce and be calm when you’re working in a climate of uncertainty,» said Kalafatakis, who cited the league’s big three – Panathinaikos, Olympiakos and Aris – as domestic exceptions in terms of professional management. «Most teams are confronted by enormous financial problems. I must admit that, with the exception of a few minor delays, there weren’t such problems at Panellinios,» he continued. The departure of Koufos from Cretan club Rethymnon was a different story. Over three seasons, he steered the team from the third division to the country’s top league, but according to the club’s president, Nikos Sarantinos, lacked the qualities needed in the A1. «We acknowledge his service to the team all these years, which was considerable, but things in the A1 league are entirely different,» remarked Sarantinos. The Cretan club’s boss said unsuccessful moves in the transfer market was the main reason behind the administration’s decision to sack its long-serving coach. «Last summer’s signings, especially the Americans, were the main reason. Teams of our level rely heavily on such arrivals,» Sarantinos said. «The weight of responsibility produced by these choices falls mainly on the coach and his associates. He decides, and he pays for the results. Of course, the administration is always partly to blame.» At PAOK, Baldwin, an American coach with a strong working past in New Zealand, fell victim to the club’s recent administrative turmoil. The Thessaloniki team, now struggling at the league’s bottom end, and Baldwin agreed to end their association after a solitary win from eight league games. «Baldwin is a great person and equally great coach. But the team’s results have fallen well short of the objective,» said PAOK boss Evangelos Galatsopoulos. «We met and judged that it would be best to not continue our association.» Baldwin was replaced by Costas Flevarakis, whom the club boss described as «the most appropriate choice.» «He knows the team well and we believe that he will provide us with the necessary impetus to get PAOK out of this rut. The team’s performance is arguably the worst in the club’s history,» said Galatsopoulos. «We’re proceeding with continuous roster changes and doing whatever is needed for the good of the club.» Responding on a question concerning the cutthroat conditions for coaches in the A1 league, Galatsopoulos said: «It’s well known that, in Greece, [sacking] the coach is the simple solution. It’s not possible to change the entire team, so you change coaches. That’s how it’s been, and still is.»