Basketball

The New General / Danny Franco Takes Control at Maccabi Haifa

All Super League clubs have now appointed coaches, champions the last to declare their man.

Now it’s signed, sealed and delivered: Danny Franco will coach title holders Maccabi Haifa this season. Franco, presently in New York, signed the contract last night, and faxed it to club owner Jeff Rosen in Miami.

During his second, extremely successful, season at Barak Netanya ? leading a minimum budget team to fourth place in the regular season ? Franco rejected Netanya’s offer to sign a long-term deal. Come summer, Franco left Netanya unsure of his next destination, but it seems his gamble paid off.

Throughout the years Franco has established good relations with Rosen, who has considered Franco for the Haifa job several times before, only to ultimately opt for someone else. This summer, too, after choosing not to renew Brad Greenberg’s contract, Rosen considered several U.S. coaches before opting for Franco.

“I appreciate the opportunity Rosen and Maccabi Haifa Basketball Club have given me,” Franco told the club’s website, “Jeff and the team staff have already begun building an impressive squad. It’s an honor for me to coach the state champions, and I’m looking forward to leading an exciting team this season.”

Rosen’s announcement was equally enthusiastic: “We’re happy to get Danny Franco at Maccabi Haifa. I’ve always admired Danny’s ability to fulfill all the potential of his teams. His knowledge, his ability to improve players and his leadership skills are impressive, and I expect him to lead the team upward to a new level.”

Haifa is the sixth team on 29-year-old Franco’s resume. He coached Ironi Ramat Gan back in 2005, but didn’t last the whole season. A year later, he led a budget-strapped Afula-Gilboa to an impressive fifth place. In 2007-2008 he coached Hapoel Galil Elyon for two months. A year later he arrived at Hapoel Holon; only Chris Watson remained from the championship team but, nonetheless, Franco led the team to a State Cup.

Two seasons later he returned to the club, which was suffering a financial crisis, but managed, with Moran Roth and only two foreign players, to finish seventh. In the past two seasons Franco has made a name for himself at Netanya, despite losing in the playoffs 3-2 to Hapoel Jerusalem. All his teams to date have been underdogs; Haifa is his first chance to lead a strong team to a title challenge.

Still, this year’s Haifa will not be as glamorous as last year’s. Gal Mekel joined the Dallas Mavericks, Pat Calathes opted for big bucks in Kazakhstan, James Thomas has left, and Paul Stoll’s status is still unclear.

The upside is that the excellent Donta Smith is staying, together with Israelis Ido Kozikaro, Alex Chubrevich and Anton Shoutvin. Dagan Yavzori has joined from Gilboa-Galil and Sherwood Brown from Florida Gulf Coast. Haifa’s representatives are also trying to lure Moran Roth, who probably won’t continue at Maccabi Tel Aviv. Franco’s assistant coach will be Ofer Rachimi. Haifa’s second assistant coach last term, Rami Hadar, left the club to coach second tier club Hapoel Afula.

Sharon Bukov