SOME THINGS ARE guaranteed, can't-miss bets. For instance, once an NBA player's contract expires, he will ask for a raise. Never mind he had a year like the Japanese stock market. Forget that he didn't play in half the games and his jump shot looks like he's launching a catapult. He's still going to ask for a raise.
Another sure thing is that top athletes always have a job. You can toss little people through bar windows, get drunk and smash up your car, brandish a weapon, drag your partner around by the hair or choke your coach - and still there's work to be had. Someone will offer your old job back.But of all certainties in life, none is more sure than the fact that a coach will jump to a higher-profile job. One call from the big leagues and it's adios to all the old friends. His house is on the market before he hangs up the phone.
In the case of Utah Grizzlies coach Butch Goring, though, that isn't what happened. He broke rank this week when he turned down an offer to coach the Disney-owned Anaheim Mighty Ducks. It wasn't just surprising news, it was astonishing. He told them he had a good job in Utah, that he liked where he was. Then he told them they'd have to make him a respectable offer. When the Mighty Ducks offered to pay him less than almost any coach in the NHL, he refused. He said they could take that job and shove it.
Coaches, of course, are notorious for claiming satisfaction with their situation, then leaving on the next train. Utah State's John L. Smith did that when he left Idaho for Utah State, then when he left Utah State for Louisville. He talked of having no plans to leave, of being happy where he was and then - poof! - he was history faster than designer jeans. Dennis Erickson professed contentment at Idaho, Wyoming and Washington State, each time moving on to the next-highest-profile job before he had time to unpack. Jerry Pimm stayed much longer but eventually left a Utah program for U.C. Santa Barbara - which wasn't even a better job. He abandoned a place where basketball is a birthright to coach in a place where basketball ranks behind body surfing and crabbing on the list of preferred sports. Utah State's Charlie Weatherbie left Utah State to coach football at Navy. He deserted a fairly obscure program in the Rocky Moun-tains in favor of a fairly obscure program on the high seas. He took a job where the phrase "staying in formation" has nothing whatsoever to do with the flying wedge.
In other fields, turning down offers happens. Julia Roberts turning down the lead in "Ghost," only to see Demi Moore convert it into a smash hit. Clark Gable had to be talked into taking the lead in "Gone with the Wind." But not in coaching. In that field, carpe diem is the theme.
Goring, though, knew he could live with his decision. This is a guy who has enough self-esteem to tell the Ducks to find another dunce; a guy who spent 16 years in the NHL, has four Stanley Cup rings and won the playoff MVP one year. He was head coach all of one season and part of a second for the Boston Bruins. He has his principles, and he certainly has his pride. He wouldn't back down from goonish defensemen as a player, why would he back down to the people who brought us "The Little Mermaid?"
Goring has won two Turner Cup championships. His teams have won, and won big. In the past two years his name has surfaced in connection with almost every NHL opening. He didn't come hat in hand.
Make no mistake: Goring wants to be back in the NHL. Unlike some coaches, who apply for every job that opens, then deny they're interested, Goring isn't secretive. He flat-out admits he would love the chance for a big-time coaching job again. Unfortunately, this one didn't qualify. The Mighty Ducks thought they were offering him a promotion; he thought they were as crazy as the Mad Hatter. They treated him like a young coach they could wow with the glamor of the NHL; he considered it a low-ball offer to one who has too long a resume to be fooled.
What the Ducks didn't factor in is that Goring is coach, vice president of hockey operations and general manager of the Grizzlies, and thus has enormous control over his team. He also makes approximately 2/3 of what the Ducks offered him in salary. He is in a city he likes, with an organization he respects. They dangled a carrot, thinking he would jump. Instead, Goring said no.
And so for one of the only times ever, in any sport, a minor league coach took the refreshing option of turning down a major league job. He could see they weren't exactly giving him a vote of confidence with the offer. It's likely the low money was a built-in insurance policy against the possibility that they fire their coach again. And so when Goring's long-awaited chance came along, he just said no. He let them know that even if it's Disney calling, what's good for the gander isn't necessarily good for the goose.