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Original Issue

Sad Sacks

A hotshot coach's canning reminds us: Life can be short, especially in sports

As pink slips go, the one handed last Saturday to Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas, who eight months ago had been among sports' sexiest hires, seemed particularly harsh: His Blues were a respectable 20-10-10 across all competitions and a game out of fourth place in the EPL. Villas-Boas (below), who had reportedly lost the respect of some of his players, can take solace in this at least: He outlasted by 128-fold Nem, coach of the Brazilian soccer club XV de Jau, who got canned on Feb. 16, two days after his hiring. (He "made poor choices," management said.) In fact, from the perspective of these past coaches, Villas-Boas had a long leash.

• To coach his team in its debut season in the old Basketball Association of America, in 1948, Fort Wayne Pistons owner Fred Zollner tapped Carl Bennett, a Zollner Machine Works employee who'd been hired for his softball skills. That experiment went as well as could be expected: Bennett, who dealt with lineups and little more, was fired after six games.

• George Allen was a two-time NFL Coach of the Year when the Rams hired him for a second stint in 1978—but his intense approach didn't fly in L.A., and players walked out of training camp. After two preseason losses, management cut bait.

• In 1992, after leaving UNLV, Jerry Tarkanian took his towel-biting act to the Spurs, where he replaced Larry Brown. But a 9--11 start and Tark's stubborn belief that he needed an All-Star to replace departed point guard Rod Strickland (when he had capable substitutes in Vinny Del Negro and Avery Johnson) landed the Shark in hot water. Receiving a $1.3 million buyout, Tarkanian lamented, "I'm 62 years old. I probably ought to be out watering the flowers."

• ESPN hockey guru Barry Melrose had been out of coaching for 13 years when, in June 2008, he said on-air that he wanted to get back behind a bench. The Lightning took him up on it—then Melrose refused to play rookie Steven Stamkos (who went on to be the NHL's 2009--10 goals co-leader) and Tampa fell to last place. Having been axed 16 games into the season, Melrose seethed, "I hope Tampa Bay doesn't win a game in the next year." He was back on ESPN by January.