Mike Budenholzer will be pleading his case for some other team soon enough. (HENRY TAYLOR / HENRY.TAYLOR@AJC.COM)
Photo: Henry P. Taylor/Henry Taylor / AJC
Photo: Henry P. Taylor/Henry Taylor / AJC

Leaving Atlanta, will Coach Bud win big? Not if history holds 

I just wonder what Mike Budenholzer is going to do from here – what heights he is going to scale in the NBA, how many championship rings will adorn his fingers – now that the Hawks let him just skip off onto the open market?

In general, coaches and managers do not rise to greatness once they are unshackled from one of the faltering local franchises. There is virtually no record of any field leader evacuating our city, and leaving a real trail of regret behind him. Sometimes a slime trail – see Bobby Petrino – but seldom regret. 

Budenholzer is a very good coach. But maybe even recognizing that, we never gave him quite enough credit, according to this recent Washington Post posting:

“The thing that proved to be a hallmark of Budenholzer’s time with the Hawks was his ability to develop and improve talent. That was the case year after year, as ‘Hawks University’ refined one player after another and took their games to a new level.”

He seems to be in high demand as a job interview subject. Already he has dickered with Phoenix and withdrawn his name from consideration. A reportedly high-value target of the New York Knicks, Budenholzer is rumored to be in contention for a job with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Hawks old coach is suddenly one of the prettiest girls at this dance. His ego is being fed and watered like a prize rose.

Again, how such an obviously valuable leader of men and burnisher of talent with two years left on his contract can be set free without compensation remains odd. But that is the clean break the Hawks chose.

If Budenholzer follows the trend of all the other coaches who have left – or, more likely, were asked to leave – Atlanta, he will not haunt his former residence with his accomplishments.    

Fired by the impatient and impetuous Ted Turner in 1984, Joe Torre is the one notable exception. He eventually landed a pretty good gig with the New York Yankees and won four World Series before shuffling off to the Hall of Fame. 

Lon Kruger has made it to one Final Four with Oklahoma since his dismissal from the Hawks, only proving himself more of a college guy.

But more likely, the Atlanta exit follows the modest route of such examples as: 

A one-time NBA Coach of the Year – like Budenholzer – Mike Fratello never made it out of the playoffs’ first round in eight seasons (with Cleveland and Memphis) after his time with the Hawks. 

There has not been a single Falcons coach who has moved on and put up a winning NFL record elsewhere. Marion Campbell lost in Philly, Dan Henning in San Diego, Leeman Bennett in Tampa Bay. Mike Smith, still awaiting a head coaching job, is the only possibility of altering that trend. But no one seems interested. 

Other Hawks coaches of some repute – namely Lenny Wilkens, Hubie Brown, Cotton Fitzsimmons and Kevin Loughery – all had no trouble finding employment after leaving Atlanta. Only Fitzsimmons, though, got as far as a conference final.

Following his “harmonious” exit from Atlanta, Coach Bud has become pretty hot property for someone who just went 24-58. Just 46, he has plenty of time to get somewhere, fix problems and do something nice. We begrudge him nothing. And wish him a long career and just enough success to inspire fondness, but not envy, in those he left behind.    

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About the Author

Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.

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