Whoever thought of the term interim coach obviously didn't realize it was redundant. All coaches are interim. Some just last longer in the job than others.
But when someone is specifically labeled an interim coach, he knows not to settle in and buy a new house. Something about that designation suggests that he's just filling in until a real coach can be found.
That may or may not be the case with Don Chaney, who took over as interim coach of the Clippers when Jim Lynam was fired March 6. It has yet to be determined whether the interim designation or Chaney himself will be removed first.
Clipper General Manager Carl Scheer has not set a limit on the number of victories Chaney will need to stay around, which probably is fortunate for Chaney since the Clippers are 2-7 under his direction.
What Chaney must do to remain coach, according to Scheer, is inspire significant improvement in a downtrodden team that has shown only brief glimpses of life this season. Considering that Chaney took over with only 21 games left in the season, it is a difficult task.
Even if the Clippers do improve under Chaney in the next three weeks, Scheer may still decide to select a more experienced coach, or a coach with a reputation.
Already, there has been talk that Scheer is considering Jerry Tarkanian, head man at Nevada Las Vegas, and Bob Boyd, former USC coach who now is coaching at Mississippi State. Boyd was seen at Sunday's Clipper-Golden State game and met with Scheer.
It is also believed that Scheer would like to hire Larry Brown, former UCLA coach who now is coaching at Kansas. Scheer and Brown worked as a general manager-coach combination with the Carolina Cougars of the old American Basketball Assn. and the Denver Nuggets. In informal discussions, however, Brown has said that he isn't interested.
Chaney, 38, didn't ask for promises when he agreed to the interim arrangement, and none were offered. Yet, Scheer says that Chaney is getting a fair chance to prove himself as an NBA coach after five years as an assistant.
"Don will be a legitimate candidate," said Scheer, choosing words carefully. "I'm not saying he'll be the leading candidate. Right now, he's the coach. But I'm going to interview a lot of different coaches around the country after the season and get the best guy for the job. This is the most important decision the franchise has to make."
Scheer said of Boyd: "He asked to see me about the job. He's a candidate, like everyone else. I want to develop a concept so that we will pick the very best college coach, or a professional coach with experience. Boyd would be a candidate, as would Tarkanian if we decide to go with a top college coach."
Obviously, the situation Chaney now faces is far from ideal, and perhaps not even fair.
Here are the Clippers, stumbling through the final quarter of the National Basketball Assn. season with a 24-46 record and no chance of qualifying for the playoffs. And here is Chaney, working frantically to try to change in five weeks what players have been doing the last five months.
Chaney, nicknamed Duck since childhood, is changing almost everything in an attempt to avoid being a lame-duck coach. He has installed a fast-break offense to replace Lynam's half-court game, has utilized a half-court trap on defense, and has tried to stamp out the Clippers' defeatist attitude. So far, though, the results have been the same.
"There's so much to do and so little time to do it," Chaney said recently. "But I expected it to be this rough. Given the circumstances, you can't turn a team around in 21 games. It's tough. Maybe only the players can appreciate what I'm trying to do.
"To be honest, it was only fair of Carl not to say I had to win right away. You'd be insane to say that I'd have to go .500 to keep the job. Carl knows what the situation is like."
There is pressure on Chaney now that he couldn't experience as Scotty Robertson's assistant at Detroit for three seasons and Lynam's assistant the last two.
But pressure has been following Chaney almost all his life. It was there in high school, when he was one of the most highly recruited players in the South. It was there when he and Elvin Hayes became the first black basketball players at the University of Houston in the mid-1960s. And it was there during Chaney's 12 years as a player in the NBA, which were highlighted by two championships with the Boston Celtics.
But Chaney always figured that putting up with the pressure was a small price to pay for playing basketball, which always has been a major part of his life. Chaney said that while he was growing up in Baton Rouge, La., he played basketball from morning to night some days.
The basketball court was sort of a day-care center for Chaney's mother, who held down two jobs while bringing up her four children alone. Chaney's parents were divorced when Don was young.