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Monday, February 24, 2003
The List: Most thankless jobs

By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff

So last week we were standing around the water cooler, wondering what it would be like to be a Bengals fan. Naturally, the conversation turned to Sisyphus. Now, he deserved it. (Look it up. Impress the girls.)

But what did the good folks below do to deserve the most thankless jobs in sports?

Bob Knight
When Bob Knight speaks, his Red Raiders listen.
1. Playing for Bobby K
Shortly before Texas Tech hired Knight, former West Point athletic director Maj. Gen. Raymond Murphy said of Knight, "He is a very compassionate man."

All we can say to that is that we feel sorry for the Maj. Gen.

You're a Red Raider:

If you do things right -- and Knight acknowledges it -- you get to keep playing.

If you do something wrong, and Knight notices it -- watch out.

And if, to paraphrase Voltaire, you're right when Knight is wrong -- that's just plain dangerous.

2. Freddie Roach
Mike Tyson
Roach has the dubious task of getting inside this man's head.
In theory, at least, Roach earned a couple hundred grand while prepping Mike Tyson for his Saturday Night Slam of Clifford Etienne. But even if he gets it from the ex-con/nut-job in deep debt, it's small compensation. Here's why: Roach is Tyson's 12th trainer. When he accepted the job of training Iron Mike last December, he doubted Tyson's desire to fight. And despite the big KO, the pre-fight whacko-week couldn't have assured Roach at all.

"The challenge," said Roach last week, "is to get inside his head."

Maybe Saturday night's performance is evidence that Roach reached his destination.

Welcome to the Cuckoo's Nest.

3. Assistant coaching under Bill Parcells
Dallas Morning News headline shortly after Parcells joined the Cowboys and hired his staff: "Bill Parcells fits his assistants for muzzles."

Parcells says this is all about controlling perception of his team. And it is. He'd prefer that assistants are perceived as nothing more than mere tacticians. And that he's perceived as the winning mastermind.

As SI's Dr. Z wrote in 2000 about Parcells' rules and regs: "Strictly nutso stuff."

4. Allard Baird
The Royals GM doesn't get to have any fun -- no blockbuster trades, no big-game hunts for hot free agents, no 10-year "you're our franchise" type deals. What he does get to do, thanks to cheapskate owner David Glass, is cut payroll.

No kudos await Baird, no "nice job" at the end of the day. Just a mandate to put as much cash as possible into Glass' pockets.

5. NFL refs
NFL Officials
It's so easy to blame the stripes.
Everyone likes to blame the zebras, but the NFL has brought a level of scrutiny to the refs that's almost ridiculous. Most knowledgeable football folks agree that the refs do a very good job, making the right calls most of the time. But they make mistakes. And when they do, they get it from players, coaches, broadcasters, the fans, and then, on Monday morning, from the league.

All this for a part-time job performed under the scrutiny of TV cameras from every angle, a job that (unlike baseball, for example) requires studying an ever-changing rulebook that makes the federal tax code look as simple as a "Curious George" board book

6. Steve Lavin ... and the next UCLA hoops coach
In five of Lavin's first six seasons, the Bruins made it to the Sweet 16. During his reign -- before this year's disastrous (6-16) skein -- UCLA averaged 22 wins a season. But Steve Lavin's on his way out, on his farewell
John Wooden
John Wooden's 10 NCAA titles will probably never be matched.
tour.

"Other successful coaches are allowed a mulligan, one season on the brink," wrote Steve Kelley in the Seattle Times. "But at UCLA, the boo-sters demand more. They want an unending string of Final Fours. They still don't understand that the success John Wooden had in the 1960s and '70s never will be duplicated."

"I've had death threats, threats of extortion ... constant damage control," Lavin told ESPN.com's Andy Katz. "I look forward to normalcy. We'll see what happens. All you get here is the constant scrutiny of your job and your job status."

Who's next in the post-post-Wooden meat grinder?

7. Elgin Baylor and Alvin Gentry
How would you like to work for one of the worst owners in sports? That's the task of L.A. Clippers GM Elgin Baylor and head coach Alvin Gentry, who report to Donald Sterling. What can Baylor do? Not much. He can draft well and he can sign 'em cheap. But he can't trade, because Sterling has the bizarre philosophy that if another team wants to trade a player, than said player can't possibly be worth acquiring. (Yes, it's a Woody Allen joke, slightly twisted, but Sterling's serious.)

And Gentry ... he can kiss every single player he develops goodbye as soon as their contracts are over, because Sterling won't re-sign them. Goodbye, Elton. Goodbye, Lamar. Goodbye, Andre.

As ESPN's Frank Hughes wrote a while back, Gentry "must feel like the guy who was named as the new CEO of Enron."

8. Joe Torre, Brian Cashman and the Yankees coaching gang
"Joe Torre and his staff have heard the bugle," said George Steinbrenner, in reference to the Yankees' shameful 103-58 regular-season finish last year, and their elimination in the first round
Joe Torre and assistants
Joe Torre and his staff have their work cut out for them.
of the playoffs.

Steinbrenner has been his usual old self, criticizing everyone from Derek Jeter to the assistant coaches to ... well, we're sure there are many we've left off.

Torre and Yanks GM Brian Cashman have had great fortune, and the bad fortune to inherit the flip side of The Yankee Way -- you're expected to win it all each year. If you do the expected, well -- who couldn't win with those players and that payroll? If you fall short, which is inevitable at least once in a while, watch out.

"This man puts up a lot of money and demands a lot, which he is entitled to do," Torre said last week. "He can do whatever he wants. What I want doesn't necessarily mean anything."

9. Head of payroll, Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres
See those guys collecting cans on the side of the highway? Yep, that's them.

10. Head of security, Masters
He's on the lookout for terrorists and other major threats. And he commands a corps of guards that won't even let badge-holders (read: CEOs, billionaires, mega-celebs) take mental snapshots of what they see. Here's the ever-growing list of prohibited items at Augusta:

Cameras (Big ouch: "Cameras are strictly prohibited on Tournament days. Anyone violating this policy will be subject to removal from the grounds and the permanent loss of ticket(s).") Cell phones. Bags, backpacks, carry bags, etc. Beepers/electronic devices. Weapons of any kind. Alcoholic beverages. Beverage containers/coolers. Flags/banners/signs. Folding armchairs/rigid type chairs or stools. Ladders/periscopes. Radios/TVs/tape recorders. Strollers. Walkie-talkies ...