The Los Angeles Lazers of the Major Indoor Soccer League, in an attempt to salvage what is fast becoming another dismal season, have fired Coach Peter Wall.
No replacement has been named, but Don Popovic, who coached the New York Arrows to four consecutive MISL titles and later coached the Pittsburgh Spirit, has arrived in town and apparently tops the list of candidates.
Assistant coach Mike Mahoney will assume the coaching duties until a replacement is named and then, according to Lazer president Jim Buss, will resume his assistant coaching duties.
According to Buss, the team's most-recent losing streak is what left him searching for answers, and the decision to hire a new coach is what he felt was a step in the right direction.
"Basically, I felt we needed a change," he said. "We seem to have an attitude sort of like 'it's OK to lose.'
"These guys are putting out the effort, but maybe, subconsciously, there was something (holding them back)."
Aside from the coaching change, Buss intends to get more personally involved with the Lazers.
"I've set new guidelines and rules and they're going to be stuck to, and the players are going to have to answer to me," he said.
The Lazers, coming off a 13-35 record last season, have a 6-14 record this season and are in last place in the Western Division. They have lost 14 of their last 17 games.
Buss wouldn't be specific about the identity of the new coach, but said that he has his eye on a person who is tremendously qualified. Popovic fits that description and is currently staying at a Los Angeles hotel.
When reached by telephone Wednesday afternoon, Popovic declined to comment on any offers made by the Lazers, and would only say that he's not going to rush into anything.
He has been coaching the New York Express in an unofficial capacity for the last month. He hasn't signed a contract, however, and is free to accept any offer.
Wall, 42, is the only coach the Lazers have had since they joined the MISL in 1982. His record with the club before this season was 70-129.
Wall's reaction to Buss' decision: "It's like the old saying, 'you're hired to be fired.'
"I'm not going to worry about it, that does me no good."
When he was named coach, Wall described his task as "a building process." And although he did not have, until recently, the financial commitment comparable to the league's better teams--the Lazers' payroll has always been one of the lowest in the league--he was able to make some headway after a dismal 8-40 inaugural campaign.
The Lazers posted consecutive .500 seasons after their first year and made it to the playoffs in both. They were ousted in the quarterfinal round each time, but for his achievement in the 1984-85 season, Wall was unanimously named MISL coach of the year.
The Lazers struggled last season, though, and for the second time in their four-year history, had the distinction of being the worst team in the league.
That, along with the fact that Los Angeles will be the host city for this year's all-star game, prompted owner Jerry Buss, who felt that the league had become stable enough to survive, to raise the team payroll to a level comparable to the rest of the league.
Wall and Jim Buss were able to sign some quality players in the off-season, and the Lazers showed promise in the early going. But after winning their first three games, two against the defending champion San Diego Sockers, the Lazers went into their tailspin.
When asked what he intends to do, Wall replied: "Coaching's my life, basically, so that may be the first field that I want to look at."
Before joining the Lazers, Wall's overall coaching record in the NASL and MISL was 48-61, including two playoff appearances and one divisional title with the California Surf, which he accomplished with what was described then as so-so talent.
Wall himself played soccer professionally for 17 years. A native of England, he came to the United States and was a member of two NASL teams before beginning his career with the MISL. After a short stint with the St. Louis Stars, he became player-assistant coach with the California Surf in 1978. He was named the team's MVP and was offered the head coaching job for the 1979 season.
In 1980, Wall led the Surf to the Western Division indoor title. He quit the organization in 1981.