He's been in Israel less than a year, but Brad Greenberg has already reached the two peaks of Israeli basketball. First he led Maccabi Haifa to the State Cup final, and on Thursday he will coach the team in the Super League final. These achievements cannot be overlooked, but Greenberg has his critics, some of whom are very harsh, including from within Maccabi Haifa itself. What's Maccabi Haifa's problem with Greenberg?
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"Greenberg is extremely unpopular among club officials. Director Avi Siegler has had several confrontations with him," says a source close to the club. Siegler's response: "Greenberg made demands we're not used to. It started with small things but also touched the bigger issues. He's very tuned into the small details; everybody must be professional, pay attention to detail and be very thorough. He doesn't skim through things as we often do in Israel. He insisted on special equipment for training sessions, and we had conflicts, as is normal in every team with every coach. He has many demands, and often he's right. When he isn't, I answer him. We solve our conflicts between us."
"Greenberg concedes that perhaps his methods are different that those practiced in Israel in the past, but it really doesn't matter to him. He says that one of the reasons owner Jeff Rosen hired him was, to a certain extent, to show how things should be done. Greenberg does his job, and if someone doesn't want to do his job, the coach tells him how to do it.
Everyone has to do his job, according to Greenberg. It's not a matter of his demands being reasonable or not. He recalls that when he arrived in the beginning of the season, the court wasn't clean because of construction work in the arena. He requested that someone sweep the court clean, and was told 'it's already been swept.' So he said to just sweep it again. He says he didn't want players to slip, that it was a dangerous surface. Players show up for training 45 minutes before the session begins, so he shouted to turn on the lights.
Greenberg feels his demands were elementary: a clean court, lights and a ball. He asks if these demands are bizarre before protesting that he is an easy person to get along with.
Indeed, at this point in time it seems that relations between the coach and club officials are fine. An hour after the victory in the fifth game of the semifinal series against Eilat, Greenberg was seen in one of the offices in Romema, with Siegler and club chairman Arnon Shiran stepping in to joke with him.
"Brad didn't want to be popular from the start," Siegler sums up, "He said he came here to do a job; if he succeeds, then everything's fine, if he doesn't – he'll go find another job. Love isn't an issue here. We simply have to work together. We have a mutual appreciation, much respect for him. He is a professional."
Still, the source close to the club says that there is also disgruntlement among squad players. "The players don't rate him highly, especially Donta Smith," says the associate. "Paul Stoll swears at him, Corry Carr doesn't like him, Ido Kozikaro says terrible things about him to his friends. His training sessions are too long and exhausting. He keeps on talking and doesn't really allow them to practice. You don't see that during games, because the team plays a disciplined game, and you see the coach's touch, but in effect, many players simply ignore him."
These arguments are surprising, since Greenberg is considered a classic man management coach. After a particularly horrendous game in Holon, some coaches would have put the blame on the players, but Greenberg tried to cheer them up. "Greenberg flows with his players and gives them so much credit," another source told Haaretz. In fact, one complaint was that the players aren't disciplined during training sessions, and do whatever they want. But one never notices this during games. "The team has a disciplined game plan, it's clear to see," the source says, "but players say that the situation is really different."
One player who seems to ignore this discipline is Stoll, who often takes irresponsible shots and loses the ball too often. "Greenberg allows Stoll to go wild, attempt a shot from half court in an important game three seconds after a time out, and still leaves him on the court. Maybe he knows that this will pay off in the long run," the source says. A different source told Haaretz: "One must say to Greenberg's credit that he managed to turn the weakness of his relationships with the players to a sort of advantage, since it allowed them to express their abilities. One can't believe that under other coaches, such as Zvika Sherf, Smith would enjoy such freedom."
"Those who criticize Greenberg do not come from within the club, but rather from outside," Gal Mekel responded on behalf of the players. "He's very different from the Israeli coaches. He's a gentlemen and very thorough. He stops many practice sessions, and we talk a lot, but he has very clear red lines. There are no surprises and he gives us confidence and quiet. We Israelis are always like this when foreigners come. Greenberg doesn't have to prove anything to anyone. After two years of fighting against relegation, he brought us to two finals."
Greenberg says he is definitely a players' coach. He wants the player to play for him, because he wants to win. He cares about what they feel. In the beginning of the season he recalls telling the players to show him that they put in an effort, and he would watch their backs. He told them that if they would give him their best and he would protect them every day. Greenberg insists his training sessions aren't anything special. He says players work harder in college basketball and in Venezuela, where there were two training sessions every day. In the past month, he notes, Maccabi Haifa has been training for an hour and ten minutes every day.
One is left to conclude that the problem is probably more with his critics than with Greenberg himself. A club source added: "Greenberg arrived here under pressure, following his college career and after he didn't receive an offer from any NBA team. Failure here would have destroyed him. At first it was difficult. He had to adjust and he succeeded. He didn't break into uncharted land, but he's a good coach. The bottom line is that coaches are measured by their achievements, and it will be a great achievement if he wins on Thursday."