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|Spain has made a coaching change just two days before the start of the World Cup in a move that will be heavily scrutinized over the coming weeks.
Was it a surprise move? Absolutely.
But the history of coaching dismissals in soccer and every other sport is littered with strange timing , strange decisions and strange circumstances. Now Julen Lopetegui’s case joins them.
Lopetegui was fired as Spain’s national team coach on Wednesday after accepting a job to lead Real Madrid next season . He will be replaced by Fernando Hierro for the country’s match against Portugal on Friday.
Spanish soccer federation president Luis Rubiales said firing Lopetegui wasn’t ideal, but had to happen after Madrid’s announcement.
”It’s a difficult situation, but we are not the ones who determined the action that had to be taken. The federation has its values and it has to maintain them,” Rubiales said. ”It may look like a weakness now, but with time this will make us stronger.”
Here’s a look at some other high-profile coaches in the United States who have had strange circumstances surround their dismissals:
LANE KIFFIN, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Kiffin’s self-described dream job ended with a spectacular thud in 2013 after he was fired during a 3 a.m. meeting at the Trojans’ private airport terminal. His dismissal came just hours after the team lost 62-41 to Arizona State. At the time, USC athletic director Pat Haden said ”It’s never the perfect time to do these things, but I thought it was the right time.”
WILLIE RANDOLPH , NEW YORK METS: Randolph’s firing in 2008 wasn’t necessarily a huge surprise because his job security had been a constant topic, but the timing was definitely strange. General manager Omar Minaya flew to the West Coast when the Mets were on the road and fired Randolph in the middle of the night, a few hours after the team had earned its third win in four games.
DAVID BLATT, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: Blatt led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2015 and had the team sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference standings in 2016 with a 30-11 record when he fired. Wins alone didn’t tell the whole story – Blatt and star LeBron James had an uneven relationship. Cleveland elevated Tyronn Lue to head coach and the Cavaliers won the championship later that year.
HUGH FREEZE, MISSISSIPPI REBELS: Freeze led Mississippi to a 39-25 record and a Sugar Bowl victory over five seasons. He looked like he was going to survive a lengthy NCAA investigation into the program, but was fired just before preseason practice in 2017 when school officials found a ”pattern of personal misconduct” that started with an investigation into a one-minute call to an escort service.
JOE GIRARDI, FLORIDA MARLINS: Girardi led the Marlins to a 78-84 record during the 2006 season which was quite an accomplishment considering the franchise had a $15 million payroll which was the lowest in baseball that season. His firing wasn’t necessarily about things that happened on the field: Girardi and team owner Jeffrey Loria clashed after Girardi asked Loria to stop yelling at umpires from his seat behind home plate. Girardi would eventually be hired by the Yankees and lead them to a World Series title in 2009.
Even the simplest of tasks like breathing and eating were painstakingly difficult for Logan Couture heading into the playoffs a year ago.
An errant puck had shattered his face and the injuries hampered Couture during San Jose’s first-round loss to Edmonton. They weren’t fully healed until the summer. The Sharks are counting heavily on a now healthy Couture to anchor a long playoff run this year starting Thursday night in Game 1 of their first-round series at Anaheim.
”It was tough,” Couture said about playing through the injury a year ago. ”It was very difficult. I went from playing to not knowing if I would be playing in the playoffs. The injury , it affected my life more than hockey. It was difficult just waking up and dealing with day to day stuff. But I’m happy, happy to be healthy.”
Couture was hit in the mouth a year ago by a shot from teammate Brent Burns and missed the final seven games of the regular season with two fractures in his face. He came back for the playoffs with plastic and wiring to keep his teeth in place and played all six games, scoring two goals in a Game 4 victory, but he was far from his usual self.
Couture was a main factor in San Jose’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, leading the NHL with 30 points that postseason before the Sharks lost in six games to Pittsburgh. He’s hoping for the same type of spring this year.
”That was probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” he said. ”Just a blast to go to the rink every day. That was a special group that we had that year. It’s different each year obviously when personnel changes. I think about that run quite a bit, just how much fun it was. Just hoping to relive it.”
As well as he played during that run, Couture might be at his peak heading into this year’s playoffs after scoring a career-high 34 goals this season , posting 61 points and having the usual responsibility of trying to slow down the opponent’s top scoring line.
That performance helped the Sharks overcome the loss of Patrick Marleau to free agency last summer and Joe Thornton to a knee injury in January and helped Couture win the team’s MVP award, although he has loftier goals still in mind.
”I’ve felt good. The puck’s gone in for me. That’s the big thing. Just capitalized on opportunities. Scoring 34 goals is pretty cool. Definitely to be up in the top 20 in goal scorers in this league, in the best league in the world, is special for sure,” Couture said.
”The season’s not over. Obviously the goal for myself, and as well as our team, is to win it all. It’s tough to say it’s been a successful year until the year’s done.”
Couture will have plenty of responsibility this series to make sure the season doesn’t end too soon.
He’ll be a main part of the top power-play unit, one of the team’s most important penalty killers , tasked with slowing down Ryan Getzlaf’s line and provide offense of his own.
”The one thing about Logan is he has the ability to raise his level in important moments, in important times of the year as he’s shown in my time here,” coach Peter DeBoer said. ”I expect the same thing. I think we kind of take it for granted but that’s what he is. He’s a great player and he has that ability.”
NOTES: DeBoer would not rule Thornton out for the series, saying only he wouldn’t play Game 1. … Eric Fehr and Melker Karlsson, who missed time late in the season, worked on the fourth line at practice Tuesday.