'Winning Time' Episode 9: Did you know Jack McKinney was unaware that he was fired as Lakers coach?
The Lakers owner announced on May 13, 1980, that McKinney would not return as the coach, but did give a glowing note of recommendation
'Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty' Episode 8 saw Lakers owner Jerry Buss (John C Reilly) contemplating whether Jack McKinney would continue to coach the purple and gold, or whether the dynamic duo of Paul Westhead and Pat Riley would continue to oversee a thriving unit. The real story: McKinney's fatal accident that he suffered saw him spend considerable time away from the side and Westhead filled in for him with Riley as the deputy. The coach who was pivotal in the creation of the 'Showtime' Lakers was eventually fired as Buss decided to persist with the two coaches whose creativity and energy were instrumental in the franchise's successful run.
Jeff Pearlman, in his book, 'Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s' recounts the timelines that led to McKinney's firing and the coach and his family's thoughts in the aftermath of that decision. The Lakers owner announced on May 13, 1980, that McKinney would not return as the coach, but did give a glowing note of recommendation. "I don't believe we have any positions available that would absorb his total capacities," Buss said. "I would not hesitate, however, to recommend Jack to my dearest friends regarding a front-office or head-coaching job in the NBA."
Did Paul Westhead and Jack McKinney have a fallout?
Before getting into McKinney's exit, the whole fallout between Westhead and him never seemed to have occurred, or at least it's not documented. While the families of both these decorated personalities have stopped interacting, there was supposedly no bitter fight. Cassie Westhead, in an interview with Sports Illustrated, said they maintained the distance with the McKinneys' despite a deep relationship.
“We’ve never discussed anything,” she told the sports outlet. “Even though we’re all very aware that our futures are going to change because of what’s happened. We don’t see the McKinneys as much as we did, and that’s been a kind of unspoken decision by the four of us. I think because our relationship is deep, we’ve avoided making it awkward for each other. They can’t share our joy over Paul’s success, of course. And how many times can you say you’re sorry for the way things turned out? When you get past the reason for it, you have to accept the fact that for us it’s been a dream come true.”
Jack McKinney had no idea he was fired
Pearlman provides an excerpt from Buss's press conference and also writes that McKinney had no clue that he was shown the door. It wasn't until the family received a call from Frank Brady, the Philadelphia Inquirer asking for their thoughts on Buss's statement. John McKinney, the third-oldest child of Jack and Claire was dumbfounded and called his parents who were returning from Portland and had stopped at Santa Rosa to spend the night. Imagine the shock when he heard from his son that he was fired as the Lakers head coach. It was demotivating and stinging, considering all that McKinney had been through.
Safe to say, that the McKinney's lost all their respect for Buss. One of his sons, Dennis, went as far as calling the owner and the management "shitty". An excerpt from the book shed light on how the other party felt. "That was surely one of the hardest things my dad ever had todeal with,” said Jeanie Buss, his daughter. “My dad is a very honorable person. He wants to do the right thing, even when that’s hard to deter-mine. I’m sure he felt he had no other choice.”
”I couldn’t admit it at the time,” McKinney said, 'but Dr. Buss wasn’t wrong. I wasn’t ready.'"
'Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty' airs Sundays at 9 pm ET on Showtime.