Hiring: Backing Your Man

A disclaimer: There is a slight difference between (a) hiring someone in an administrative or coaching position and (b) signing an American player for your team, as I did 15 times in 14 years here in Italy’s Series A-1. Though the situations are not exactly the same, the hiring principles are quite similar: (a) you want to correctly assess his possible technical contribution; (b) you want to bring in a solid person; (c) you want someone that is going to ‘grow on the job,’ (d) you want someone that fits in; (e) you want someone that is loyal to the cause. That goes without saying.

But I want to underline what I said yesterday: The person doing the hiring must help the person he hires; every day and in every way. It’s part of the job. In fact, it IS the job. If an AD or a GM will just say to his head coach, every so often, “What can I do to help you?”, well, that’s a start on building a great working relationship and on helping that coach be successful. It’s the same with a player you sign. They may be pros, like here in Italy, but they are like anyone else: concerned about their performance, their job security, the future. That’s where you can help.

In 1980, I brought in John Gianelli. I should say ‘we’ brought in John, as it’s a club project: owner, president, sponsor, GM and coach. But it’s the coach that must make the final call to sign that player. John was a 6’11” guy that could play center, power forward, small forward. He was 30 years old, had 8 years in the NBA, with one title, with the 1972-73 Knicks. He had finished up with Utah and had not played in five months. He signed just days before the start of the season, so, no practices and no exhibition games. The first few games, he was simply awful. I heard about it, big time.

The press was all over me. Fans were holding up posters: GIANELLI + a drawing of a pair of scissors. Meaning, Peterson, ‘cut’ Gianelli. I told John, “They will have to walk over my dead body to get to you. You are staying. Of course, I’d like to see you play like I know you can play.” Oh, my God! I’ve never coached a smarter or tougher player or a better defender. We won a ton. Three years later, at 33, he retired. Those same fans were crying, “Peterson, what are we going to do without Gianelli?” So, was I some super-exec/coach? No. I backed my guy: It’s part of the job.