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When Reruns Get Canceled

Coaches who return to the scene of previous triumph prove you can't always go home again.

June 15, 2005|Jason Reid | Times Staff Writer

The second go-round for the Lakers and Coach Phil Jackson began Tuesday at a Staples Center news conference that seemed like old times.

Their reunion again lifted Los Angeles to top billing nationally, overshadowing Game 3 of the NBA Finals in Auburn Hills, Mich., and providing star power the Lakers lacked while missing the playoffs this season without Jackson on the sideline.

Maintaining the buzz in second acts, however, is often difficult, and the team's roster won't prompt planning for a championship parade anytime soon.

But Jackson was eager to do it all again with the Lakers, becoming the newest member of sports' high-profile "Second-Timers Club."

"It's a tremendous story," he said. "... It's a story of reconciliation, redemption and reuniting -- a lot of things in this make for a wonderful opportunity for ... the Lakers and myself."

That's the way these feel-good reunions usually begin.

John Robinson returned to USC amid high expectations in 1993 after nine years coaching the NFL's L.A. Rams. USC hoped Robinson would revive its tarnished image, turning to a coach who had an .819 winning percentage, won three Pacific 10 titles and the 1978 national title in his first stint at Heritage Hall.

The blast from the past quickly boosted the Trojans' spirits and the team improved, winning bowl games -- including the 1996 Rose Bowl -- in Robinson's first three seasons back.

But that didn't prevent an unhappy ending for him. He was fired in 1997 after USC went 12-11 in his final two seasons.

"Going back can be tougher than going elsewhere," Robinson said.

"Probably the most difficult thing to do is evaluate the place for what it is at that moment, not what you remember it being," said Robinson, who also coached and was athletic director at Nevada Las Vegas before retiring.

"If you were successful before, people are going to want to go back to the good old days. You probably do too. It's human nature.

Gene Mauch had two successful stints with the Angels, albeit not as good as they could have been. He led the team to the American League West division title in 1982, but the Angels lost the best-of-five AL championship series to Milwaukee after winning the first two games.

Mauch was removed as manager after that season and wound up with a front-office job. He returned to the field in 1985 and a year later the Angels squandered a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven ALCS to Boston.

Whether Joe Gibbs will be successful in his second turn with the Washington Redskins is still to be determined.

After coaching the Redskins to three Super Bowl victories in 12 seasons, Gibbs retired in 1993 with a 124-60 record, choosing to focus on his NASCAR racing team. The Redskins rehired him to replace Steve Spurrier last season, and Gibbs returned to an NFL that was much different than the league he left.

The off-season overhaul of rosters because of free agency and salary-cap issues, as well as major rules changes such as the two-point conversion and the option to challenge calls by officials, were not factors when Gibbs first guided the Redskins. Washington's 6-10 record prompted reporters and fans to question whether Gibbs could thrive in today's NFL.

"When you're evaluating the situation, probably the most important thing to look at is whether the organization, as a whole, is committed to doing things the same way it used to," said Robinson, commenting generally about coaches who return to places they had formerly worked. "You may want to believe they are, but they might do things differently now. Maybe they're more willing to take shortcuts, or they just don't do it the same way.

"When you first get a job, you go in and look around at the problems and say, 'Well, if there weren't any problems here they wouldn't have hired me.' You have do to the same thing the second time."

Or in Billy Martin's case, the third, fourth and fifth times.

The New York Yankees' 1977 World Series title was the high point of Martin's dizzying tenure as their manager. He resigned in July 1978, returned in June 1979 and was fired after that season.

Owner George Steinbrenner rehired Martin three more times before finally shutting the door in May 1988.

Operating under the Big Apple media microscope wasn't helpful to Martin, but Jackson has demonstrated a skilled touch in that area while leading the Chicago Bulls and Lakers to nine NBA titles.

And in the second go-round, Robinson said, the spotlight burns brighter.

"I think everyone feels it somewhat, but I don't think coaches really take issue with [outside expectations]," he said. "Coaches focus on executing their plan -- and that's no different the first time or the second."

Staff writer Robyn Norwood contributed to this report.

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They returned

Some coaches/managers who left teams and then returned to lead them again:

BASEBALL

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