The season is just two months old and already Mike Fratello has seen three of his NBA coaching brethren buckle under the pressures of the job. He says, "Of course, you have to be concerned."
Fratello, elected to his third term as president of the coaches' association, has known his own pressures as he tries to mold an Atlanta team widely considered as a championship contender.Along the way he has seen the much-respected Jack Ramsay quit in Indiana. He saw Frank Layden walk away in Utah. And late Tuesday night he watched a TV image of Sacramento's joker, Jerry Reynolds, face down and deathly still on the arena floor.
Ramsay quit in frustration, Fratello believes. "He could see where things weren't going to get better any time soon."
Reynolds was stricken, his doctors say, because of stress brought on by losing. But Layden's team was leading the Midwest Division when he quit, saying he could no longer deal with the stress of his job, some of it brought on by hostile fans.
Presently, Fratello is dealing with the pressure of winning, the need to protect what he's gained through success and to continue on. But he wondered Thursday if the pressure of losing is not even more severe "but for different reasons."
"A guy who's losing, his pressures become survival questions - `I'm not gonna last on the job.' Take a guy where there's rumors out that he may be losing his job soon. Is that guy putting as much pressure on himself as a guy who's looking to win every night? You take X-number of years to get to a certain level in coaching, you're in the job and then comes the threat of losing your job. All the good you've done these years is tarnished. It's a tremendous blow."
Fratello understands all sides. He has suffered losing, particularly in a 34-48 season. He has been attacked as a winner in hostile arenas. He noted before bringing his team here for a game against the Milwaukee Bucks that sometimes "the verbal attacks become so personal there is a hatred. They don't like who you play, or your style. They go after you as a person or your family."
As winning and losing instills such passions within and without the team, should coaches seek the advice of stress professionals?
"I don't think anybody should put themselves past that," Fratello said. "Obviously, it's an individual decision. Some people could use that kind of help but they wouldn't seek it because it's a slap against their masculinity. But I enjoy talking to guys who have been there, been through a lot.
"There was a summer when I sat and talked to Tommy Lasorda, who's been through so many baseball seasons of 162 games. I talked to Dick Motta, who went through more than 1,500 NBA games. That's therapy, I think, in a certain sense."
Fratello says there is a danger that coaches will work very hard to understand their players, but not be able to deal with themselves.
"You're a psychologist in your own profession. You see the 12 other people that you work with every day, but you've got to see yourself. If you're not doing it right, or there are areas you need to work on, you need assistants who are strong enough to say to you, `Here's an observation. Maybe if you do this.' "
"I've been very lucky with my assistants," Fratello continued. "A lot of guys sit there and say, `It's not my job to say that.' Brendan Suhr was great at that when he was my assistant. I guess he felt comfortable because of our long relationship. He could say, `There's another way of handling this or I don't think you're handling this the right way.'
"There has to be someone. In this business, I don't see how you can do it alone."