Chris Ford Wins First Game as Head Coach

1990-91 Boston Celtics
November 3, 1990

It is a small club like men who've walked on the moon, played for the Rolling Stones or been married to Elizabeth Taylor. A few men share thoughts and experiences that nobody else knows.

Celtic head coaches know things that nobody else knows.

Last night Chris Ford put his name alongside Honey Russell, Doggie Julian, Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, Tom Sanders, Dave Cowens, Bill Fitch, K.C. Jones and Jimmy Rodgers. This is not like the New York Yankees, who for the last 15 years changed managers every time George Steinbrenner changed his socks. These are the Boston Celtics, and in their first 44 seasons, there were only 10 head coaches. Ford makes 11.

Ford's record is a glittery 1-0. His Celtics ran to a 125-101 Opening Night victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers last night. And we mean ran.

The new Celtic coach never stopped barking orders, and didn't sit down until Boston's lead reached 20 points late in the fourth quarter. He yelled defensive audibles in the first half and called out the offensive plays after intermission.

"Kevin baseline."


"Keep it moving."

"Get up, Chief."

"He's holding 'em."

"Right to the play, Dee."

"Yo, Oscar. Time out."

"Get the running game going."

OK, it's not Doug Moe-Frank Layden stuff, but Celtic coaches have never been big on sarcasm. Heinsohn and Fitch were probably the best of the one-liner guys. Red bullied the refs. K.C. wasted a lot of words making pleas for the rarely called "moving pick." Rodgers, it seemed, just turned red and called for chalkboard stuff while Larry Bird and Co. pretended not to hear.

Ford coached with the motion of Arthur Fiedler and the nonstop command of Leona Helmsley. And it worked.

His Opening Night outfit was a loose-fitting, double-breasted gray suit, a white shirt and a red paisley tie. The new coach looked like he could go one-on-one with Chuck Daly in the wardrobe closet.

Public address announcer Andy Jick introduced all 12 Celtics before the opening tap (Paul Dupee missed his eighth straight home opener). Brian Shaw was booed and Bird was saved for last. Ford stood with his arms folded across his chest during the introductions, and his round of applause could barely be heard above the Bird aftershocks.

After the center jump, Ford paced the standing-room-only space in front of his bench and kept his thumb on the pulse of the game, wire to wire.

When it was over, Bird chuckled and said, "We're gonna have to find a muzzle for him with all that yelling and screaming he does."

Kathy Ford, who watched from across the floor, admitted she wondered just how far the officials would let Chris stray. The man was all over the place and he never stopped commanding.

Ford's most emotional moment came with 7:06 left in the third period when he called a 20-second timeout and ordered former teammates Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish to "get over here." He got in their faces and told them to get their rear ends back down the floor ahead of the Cavs. Ford was not shy about it; he used some of the words Roger Clemens hurled at Terry Cooney. Later in that quarter, McHale came to the bench during a timeout and pleaded, "Let me shoot my free throws first, then yell at me."

McHale was in a good mood after the game. Getting yelled at by a man who played is different, more acceptable.

"Yeah, he was mad," said the veteran forward. "He screamed and yelled. But the thing I like about Chris saying what he said was that we're still free to do what we want. He's not that uptight that he'll try to put restraints on you. It's not the yelling that makes you tight like with a lot of coaches."

Ford admitted, "I was very upset. It was one of those uphill-downhill things where we were running only one end of the floor."

Does he find it difficult to yell at players he once played with?

"No," said Ford. "Not at all."

The Celtics outscored Cleveland by 20 in the 17 minutes after Ford's third-quarter spanking. When the final buzzer sounded, Ford was undefeated.

And people say it's tough to be a head coach in the NBA.

"I thought we tried to run," said Ford. "We saw opportunities. After long months of preparation, it was nice to go after it for real. I think it's going to be a fun and exciting team."

The Celtics ran and the fans applauded. Ford heard none of the nasties that rained on Mr. Rodgers last spring. There were no banners telling Ford to take a hike and today he's enjoying a honeymoon with that carnivorous Boston media.

Chris Ford at this hour is a lot more popular than Rod Rust or Joe Morgan. Life is good . . . at least until tonight's game in New York against the Knicks.

1 comment:

Lex said...

"Oscar" would be who?

Any guesses?

Michael, having just read the book, will know.

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