NBA

Meet Roy Rubin, The Worst NBA Coach Ever

Josh Elias | December 7th, 2019

The last three coaches to lead their team to an NBA Championship have done so in their first year as a head coach.

Before them, only three other coaches (George Senesky, Paul Westhead, and Pat Riley) had done so since 1950.

That’s a great sign for innovation in the NBA.

It’s less of a great sign for job security.

When teams know that a completely fresh face in the coaching world can realistically lead to immediate titles, it becomes pretty apparent that keeping a coach who’s merely pretty good isn’t good enough.

And when front offices don’t notice, fanbases sure do.

This summer, even after huge overachieving years, there were significant subgroups of Indiana Pacers fans that wanted Nate McMillan out and significant subgroups of Portland Trail Blazers fans that wanted Terry Stotts out.

Does that make sense? Absolutely not.

What it does do, though, is emphasize when a coach is truly bad.

If you’re a fan of a team with a legitimately bad head coach, there’s a good chance you think he’s the worst coach possible. Especially if it’s the Knicks. (Ed: Nevermind, the Knicks don’t even have a coach anymore. Carry on.)

Trust me he’s not.

Because Roy Rubin was.

Now, in the summer of 1972, the Philadelphia 76ers weren’t in a great position, by any means.

They were coming off their worst season ever at that point, winning just 30 games and missing the playoffs for the first time in their history.

They still hadn’t recovered from trading Wilt Chamberlain away five years earlier, they’d just traded away a 25 point-per-game scorer and all-star talent at the start of the prior year in Archie Clark, and franchise cornerstone Billy Cunningham had just announced he was leaving for the ABA.

On top of that, their key remaining players were almost all over 30, it was becoming clear that Bob Rule’s Achilles injury meant he would never be the same again, only one of their nine – yes, nine – draft picks played a single game in the league, and Dr. Jack Ramsay, who was both their coach and general manager, quit on the last day of the year.

Yes, things were grim.

Grim enough that they were turned down by championship-winning Knicks coach Red Holzman without a second thought.

And newly-unemployed legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp.

And recent ABA Coach of the Year Al Bianchi.

And Lakers assistant K.C. Jones, an eight-time NBA champion with Boston whose only head coaching job at that point was at D-III Brandeis University.

And another top ABA coach, Tom Nissalke.

And former Texas Tech coach Bob Bass.

Those are just the ones that went public!

They almost got Marquette coach Al McGuire to sign, but when they told him he wouldn’t have any control over roster moves, he justifiably backed out.

So they did what they had to, and put an ad in the paper.

“Philadelphia 76ers: Coach Wanted”.

It was in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Tribune, the South Philly Review… any paper they could get their hands on, they put an ad in it.

For an NBA coaching job.

Still crickets.

Until one day, Jules Love saw the ad. Love was a businessman who was friends with the Sixers’ owner, and he also happened to be a former college assistant basketball coach.

As a favor to his friend and former boss, Roy Rubin, he called up Philly’s front office and suggested him as a candidate.

When he called Rubin to tell him, Rubin laughed and called him crazy.

But an interview was set up, and against all odds and any semblance of sanity in the world, he was hired.

Not only was he hired, but he was hired with a three-year, fully guaranteed $100,000-a-year contract.

For the NBA in the early seventies, that was big money.

The highest-paid player in the league that year was Bill Bradley for the Knicks, at $325,000.

Adjust that to today’s standards, with the highest-paid player making well over a hundred times that much, and Rubin was being paid what would be the equivalent of nearly $12 million a year in today’s NBA money.

That’s more than every single coach in the league gets paid.

So with that kind of money, you’d expect a pretty impressive resume.

Nope. About as far from that as you can get, really.

Ten years coaching a Bronx high school, and eleven years in charge of the LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds.

LIU was only a D-I program for four years out of his time there, and he had a record of 56 wins and 42 losses during those years. Above average, but far from spectacular.

Even in the press conference where they announced his hiring, then-owner Irvin Kosloff admitted “he’s no Al McGuire. Or any McGuire, for that matter.” – alluding to one of the many coaches they’d lost out on.

When asked later in the same press conference why he took the job, Rubin responded, “Who knows? Maybe two weeks after the season starts, I’ll feel like killing myself.”

Considering the stress of the gig made him lose 45 pounds during his 105 days on the job, he probably wasn’t wrong.

From his time as a college coach, there were two things that put him in the headlines: a stellar defense that led him to write a book on coaching defenses, and convincing his star Israeli point guard to stay in college for his senior year by hiring prostitutes for him the night before every game.

In the NBA, his defense was the worst in the league, so it was more things along the lines of the other thing that would make him known.

When he first met the team, he made it clear that he was going to be a very strict coach.

He wouldn’t put up with anything – you’d be benched if you dunked in a game, you had to wear a suit and tie to every game, and you couldn’t drink or smoke in the locker room.

Except “Mad Dog” Fred Carter, who helped make the fist-bump a thing (no, really), complained that he’d been smoking before games his whole career, and Rubin immediately made an exception for him.

That’s the precise moment he already lost all credibility in the locker room.

Things only got worse for him from there.

When he won his first preseason game, playing his full rotation against a Celtics team that mostly played reserves, he celebrated like he’d won the championship.

Reports came out that he didn’t know who Hal Greer – a champion, a future Hall of Famer, and, most relevantly, the 76ers’ own starting point guard – even was before he was hired.

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Players even went to the media complaining that he didn’t know the basic rules.

As backup center Dale Schlueter recalled, “He knew absolutely nothing about how to coach in the NBA”, going on to explain that during one particular halftime break, Rubin once “stood there with his mouth open and said nothing” until the confused players all just left him there in the locker room and went back out to the court.

Needless to say, he wasn’t off to a great start.

Loss, loss, loss, loss, loss, loss, loss, loss, loss, loss, loss, loss, loss, loss, loss.

By game sixteen, he finally won one. He jumped up in the air to celebrate his win and hurt his leg.

Even when he won, he lost.

Image result for roy rubin liu

In the middle of the night after the game, he called up a reporter asking him to ask him questions. The one question he got? Why in the world he was calling a reporter at nearly 2 A.M.

He became known for being completely unaware of matchups when he subbed players in, using up entire timeouts to argue with refs, and, of course, losing.

There was the time there were two vans waiting to drive the team to their hotel before a game and every single player crammed into one van to avoid him, and there was the game where John Trapp had a friend bring a gun to the game and threaten Rubin with it every time he tried to sub Trapp out.

For months, local newspapers would only refer to him as “Poor Roy Rubin.”

He was finally, mercifully fired at the all-star break, with a record of 4-47. Less than eight percent.

Of his four wins, three of the opposing coaches would be fired before season’s end too.

The other one? Dr. Jack Ramsay, the man whose resignation spurred on this whole tragic story.

Once he was fired, Rubin would never coach a game again, at any level.

He quit basketball and moved far away from the City of Brotherly Love, opening an IHOP in Florida.

There was only one thing in basketball he ever lent his name to after that, a basketball summer camp now known as Five-Star which has helped launch the careers of numerous Hall of Fame inductees; players and coaches alike.

Although, even then, it wasn’t until almost immediately as soon as his name was removed from the camp that some kids named Isiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins, Patrick Ewing, and Michael Jordan showed up.

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