"I've always considered myself to be the perfect example of Peter's Principle," Sacramento Coach Dick Motta said recently. "I work myself up to a level of incompetence, and yet I've been able to fake and stay in a very volatile, very precarious, balanced profession."
In over 20 years as a head coach, Motta has won more games than anyone except Red Auerbach and Jack Ramsay, building an 835-814 mark. Last Monday, he coached in his 1,648th game, an NBA record. It has been an eventful career that included stops at Chicago, Washington, Dallas and Sacramento. Motta was named NBA Coach of the Year (1971) and won an NBA championship (1978)."I would love to be coaching this game as long as Dick has," said Houston Coach Don Chaney. "It would be a great thing to be in the league that long."
Friday in the Salt Palace, the Jazz host Motta's Sacramento Kings. Utah won the first meeting between the teams this year, 106-98 at Arco Arena.
Although Motta seems to thrive on building situations - in NBA history only 10 teams have improved four straight years; he coached two of them - his current job could test the limits. Last year, he took over the Kings, who were 7-21, and finished the year with a 16-38 mark in the final 54 games. This year the Kings are 11-26, 21 1/2 games behind Portland in the Pacific Division. Among their losses was a game which produced the second-lowest point total in modern NBA history - a 101-59 loss to Charlotte.
Sacramento was the last team in the NBA to win a game at the season's start, after seven straight losses.
Following his record-setting appearance this week - a 97-94 win over Houston - the emotional Motta leaped and thrust his arm in the air. "I did it because we don't get very many wins," he said.
The son of an Italian farmer, Motta was born in Union (Midvale), when the area was nothing more than a rural community of 205 people. His coaching career began at tiny Grace (Idaho) High School, where one of his players was current Jazz assistant Phil Johnson. He moved on to coach six years at Weber State, winning the Big Sky Conference title three times. But in 1968, his career began to accelerate when he was named head coach of the Chicago Bulls at age 37. The first NBA game he ever saw was the first one he coached.
"When I started in the NBA, I had never seen an NBA game in person," said Motta. "I took the job on a whim, basically as a challenge, with full intent to use it as a stepping stone to get a real good college job. I had good teams (at Weber), but I didn't have a national reputation to apply for the real good Division I jobs; that's why I went to Chicago. To look back it's amazing, going from Union, Utah clear to Chicago - the NBA - and staying all the time."
Among those head coaches who played under Motta are Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan, Orlando's Matt Guokas, Portland's Rick Adelman, Washington's Wes Unseld and Atlanta's Bobby Weiss. Former Motta players include Hall of Fame members Elvin Hayes, Nate Thurmond and Unseld.
But Motta isn't sentimental about coaching against his former players. "That is basically gone after the first time it happens," said Motta. "I play Adelman, I play Weiss, I play Guokas, I play Unseld, I play Sloan, I play Phil Johnson. I go to Washington, Dallas or Chicago - those things are exciting and it's fun to watch those people succeed, but not at my expense."
Motta has left his mark with all his pupils. Sloan, who played for Motta in Chicago, says "the biggest thing I learned with Dick was his patience in working with guys. That helped me a lot. Also his work on execution was very important."
Johnson says he learned as a high school star from Motta that it takes great dedication and cooperation to succeed.
Despite his longevity, Motta walked away from his career after the 1986-87 season in Dallas. But he came out of retirement last year to take over the Kings, who remain one of the weakest teams in the league.
Regardless, Motta won't likely have many regrets when he retires for good. "I would imagine that there would be millions of men that would like to have experienced what I have done. Many times I look at it and say it's just a job, and then when I step back and look at the magnitude of what I have experienced, it's sometimes overwhelming to me."
PREGAME NOTES: The Kings' best player, Wayman Tisdale, has a torn foot tendon and is expected to be out for two or three more weeks . . . Jazz center Mike Brown is recovering from a sprained toe. He played 15 minutes Wednesday against the Knicks . . . John Stockton is 10 assists from becoming the No. 14 player on the alltime assist list . . . Utah holds a 43-39 lead alltime lead over the Kings . . . The Jazz won three of four against Sacramento last year.
Dick Motta's coaching career
Team Years Record
Chicago 8 356-300
Washington 4 185-143
Dallas 7 267-307
Sacramento 2 27-64
Totals: 21 835-814