He was once the face of college basketball, Hoosiers personified, a small-town kid who this spring brought a smile, a swagger and a national championship resume to the UCLA program.
Yet before he even coached one practice, someone had created a Facebook page titled "Fire Steve Alford."
He was once baseball's best manager, the steady force who brought the Angels their first and only world championship, the creator of what many now consider halo heaven.
FOR THE RECORD:
Coaching in L.A.: In the May 5 Sports section, a column about sports coaches in the hot seat said that New York Jets Coach Rex Ryan has coached the team for six seasons and that New York Mets Manager Terry Collins has headed his team for four seasons; in fact, Ryan has coached the Jets for four seasons and Collins is in his third season as Mets manager. —
Yet recently, a blog called "Halos Heaven" conducted a Mike Scioscia poll that asked: "Is he toast?"
Yet there is not one, but two, Twitter accounts named after Vinny Del Negro's imminent demise, @FireVinnyDelNeg and @FireVinnyDNegro.
Welcome to the home of what has become the toughest job in sports, a place where perspective is forgotten, continuity is ignored and patience comes to die.
If you want to coach a major sports program in Los Angeles these days, lose your sense of pride, find your sense of humor and prepare to spend every waking hour apologizing for not being Phil Jackson.
Welcome to Hot Seat City.
"Coaches who come to L.A., you always think you're ready for it," said Warren LeGarie, a prominent agent for NBA coaches. "But you are never ready for it."
How could you be?
How could one of LeGarie's clients, Mike Brown, know that he would be fired just five games into this season? How could another of LeGarie's clients, Mike D'Antoni, know that he would be welcomed by thousands of Lakers fans chanting for another coach?
How could USC football Coach Lane Kiffin know that, mere months after going 10-2 with a depleted roster, he would have to interrupt a postgame news conference to announce he wasn't getting fired?
How could Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly guess that his owners would preach stability and continuity in assembling the most expensive team in baseball history, then refuse to extend his ordinary contract past the end of the summer?
"Coaches all want the beauty of L.A.," said LeGarie. "But there is a real difficulty in L.A."
Recent trends are turning that difficulty into a near impossibility. Suddenly, it seems, coaching a team in the best market in sports has become one of the worst jobs in sports.
Of the 10 coaches of Los Angeles' major sports programs, five are under such duress and could be fired by the end of the year: Kiffin, D'Antoni, Del Negro, Mattingly and Scioscia.
Four other coaches are secure only because they've been on the job less than 18 months: UCLA football Coach Jim Mora, UCLA basketball Coach Steve Alford, USC basketball Coach Andy Enfield and Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau.
"Coaches literally are targets now," said LeGarie.
The bull's-eye has become bigger in Los Angeles than in the traditionally tough markets. As sports has slowly joined hands with entertainment, the entertainment capital of the world has become sports' toughest audience. From screaming columnists and snappy social media sites to chanting fans and pressured officials, coaches here are judged more skeptically, ripped more furiously and held to a higher standard than anywhere.
You think New York is mean? Rex Ryan has made the playoffs just twice in six seasons with the Jets, while Terry Collins has had a losing record over his four seasons with the Mets. You'd hate to coach in Philadelphia? Not if you're Andy Reid, who lasted 14 years there without leading the Eagles to a Super Bowl title.
In Los Angeles, at UCLA, Ben Howland made three Final Fours in 10 years — and it wasn't enough.
"Clearly, the life span of a Los Angeles coach or manager is much shorter than ever," said Fred Claire, the general manager of the Dodgers when Tom Lasorda was in the middle of a 20-year reign as manager. "There just isn't patience among the decision-makers anymore. With all the money being spent, management thinks there's a magic wand that can fix everything."
Indeed, there is a record amount of Hollywood-style money flowing through Los Angeles' teams, and coaches are drowning in its wake.
Howland's firing was at least partly due to his inability to fill the expensive new Pauley Pavilion, and entirely possible because of the new Pac-12 TV contract that gave UCLA officials the funds to pay him off.
The Lakers' new billion-dollar TV deal with Time-Warner has placed a more desperate emphasis on winning, and allowed them to make impulsive changes — see: Mike Brown — when they don't win.
The expectations for Don Mattingly increased, and the patience with Mike Scioscia decreased, in direct proportion to the amount of money both franchises recently spent for star players.
"You're talking wealthy, high-profile teams with one objective," said George Belch, a professor in San Diego State's sports marketing program. "It's like, 'I've got you the best horse, I want you to win the race.'"
Even two teams that never seem to care about their coaches are now being motivated by their checkbooks. Kevin O'Neill wasn't fired as USC basketball coach a couple of years ago after his scuffle with an opposing booster; he was fired this winter after school officials grew weary of an empty Galen Center. Del Negro was hired to coach a cheap Clippers team, and soon will probably be fired because he is not trusted with an expensive one.
"I found that throughout the Dodger organization, managers and coaches learned more by going through the tough times," said Claire. "Unfortunately, today, guys don't get a chance to use that experience."
Claire emphasized that experience leads to continuity, which eventually leads not only to championships but to legacies that even the largest payroll or biggest rights fees cannot create.
Could the demand for instant coaching excellence that is regularly seen in this column space and many others actually hinder consistent coaching excellence? Well, hard to say. But there was once a guy who showed up here from the Midwest and was allowed to coach a Los Angeles team for 16 years before he finally won a championship.
Good thing nobody created @FireJohnWooden.