Co-owner fires McElhiney for player conflict

Updated: January 30, 2005, 2:19 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ashley McElhiney, the first female coach of a men's pro basketball team, was fired Saturday after an on-court dispute with the co-owner of the Nashville Rhythm of the ABA.

Ashley McElhiney
The Rhythm were 17-7 under the 23-year-old McElhiney this season.

Co-owner and CEO Sally Anthony was unhappy that McElhiney was playing Matt Freije after Anthony instructed that he be benched.

The argument over the former Vanderbilt star's playing time began during the third quarter and apparently escalated when Anthony attempted to remove McElhiney as coach during the team's 110-109 win over the Kansas City Knights. Anthony was eventually restrained by security guards and taken off the floor.

"I called my coach a couple of hours before the game and said 'I don't want him playing,' " Anthony told The Tennessean after the game. "She ignored me. I walked onto the court and said I'm her boss and she needed to bench him."

McElhiney declined to comment when reached at her home on Sunday by The Associated Press. The team is 17-7 this season under the 23-year-old, a former point guard for Vanderbilt.

I called my coach a couple of hours before the game and said 'I don't want him playing.' She ignored me. I walked onto the court and said I'm her boss and she needed to bench him.
Sally Anthony, co-owner of
the ABA's Nashville Rhythm

Anthony, a singer who also has her own record label and a Web site promoting female artists, said she was just trying to protect her players.

"My co-owner and my GM decided to pay Matt Freije to have the name here," she said. "He came in for two games. Our players are struggling financially."

According to Anthony, Freije, Vanderbilt's all-time leading scorer, was paid $10,000 to play two games for the Rhythm.

After the game, Anthony also got into a conflict with Jason Sonn -- the brother of injured Rhythm player Adam Sonn.

Anthony shoved Jason Sonn, used foul language, and directed an inappropriate hand gesture toward him.

"She's delusional and she thinks she's bigger than she really is," Jason Sonn told The Tennessean of Anthony.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.