A couple of hours after it was announced that he was leaving the Alaska organization on Thursday, Tim Cone gathered the Aces around one last time.
“I can’t explain it, I can’t explain why, but it just came,” he said, as the players listened intently, as if they were in a huddle in the middle of the arena instead of a posh cafe in Makati.
“This is the right time. You’re not gonna miss a beat without me.”
Earlier in the afternoon, Fred Uytengsu made the announcement that Cone, who had been the coach of Alaska for 22 years, will no longer be part of the Aces, ending days of speculation about the multi-titled mentor’s future.
Uytengsu said that Cone, who led Alaska to 13 championships including a rare Grand Slam in 1996, approached the organization last week to ask for his release. The coach had a live contract with Alaska until 2013. At the same time, the Alaska owner announced the appointment of Cone’s erstwhile deputy, Joel Banal, to the head coaching post.
“At this point, I just wanted to do something different,” said Cone, who was visibly emotional throughout the whole news conference. He said that the decision was particularly hard considering the length of his tenure with the Aces. “I’ve been married to the Alaska organization longer than I’ve been married to my wife.”
He said that the choice wasn’t made on the spur of the moment, saying that the build-up to his decision was a gradual process, although he likened the decision to leave the Aces’ to a mid-life crisis.
Uytengsu said that his only regret is that Cone would not have a chance to break Baby Dalupan’s all-time PBA championship record with Alaska. The legendary former Crispa mentor coached his way to 15 titles over the course of his career.
In good hands
Cone said that he was leaving the team in good hands, which made his decision easier.
“The team is strong,” he said, mentioning the presence of all-stars LA Tenorio, Sonny Thoss, and Cyrus Baguio on the team.
He was also effusive in praise of his successor Banal, a former head coach who led Talk ‘N Text to the 2003 PBA All-Filipino title.
“I’m terrifically happy for Joel,” said Cone. “I’ve always told him he was too good to be an assistant coach in this league.”
No firm offer yet
While Cone admitted having had discussions with other teams, he insisted that there was still no firm offer for him to sign with any other squad yet. His name has been linked to the B-MEG Llamados, which recently announced the appointment of Richard del Rosario as acting head coach.
“I hear the rumors just like you do,” Cone said. “There’s rumors flying all over. I have not been given an offer from B-MEG.”
“I’m hoping I land on my feet.”
Cone added that he thought it was the right time for him to leave Alaska while he was still “marketable” to other teams, indicating that the Aces’ championship run in the 2010 PBA Fiesta Conference was still fresh in the minds of other teams.
“I might not be as ‘marketable’ five years from now,” he said.
Life goes on for Alaska
Uytengsu, meanwhile, stressed that the focus of the Aces now moves to their quest for a 14th championship.
“I think we have a great coach in Joel Banal,” he said. “Our immediate goal is to win the All-Filipino Conference.”
Banal, for his part, said that he will retain a lot of elements from Tim Cone’s system as he takes over Alaska’s coaching chores.
“The system was obviously working,” he said. “We will use a lot of Coach Tim’s system. [But] little by little, I will inject some of what I know.”
Cone versus Alaska
Uytengsu said he would not be surprised to see Cone in the sidelines for another team.
“He is one of the greatest coaches to ever coach in the PBA,” Uytengsu said. “I’m sure he is a very attractive candidate to the other franchises.”
With both men known for their fiery competitiveness, the Alaska chief executive was asked if he was looking forward to the opportunity to beat his long-time coach.
“I’m looking forward to beating any team not named Alaska on the court,” he replied with a smile. “Any time, any place.”
Beginning today, after 22 years, that would include even teams coached by Tim Cone.
» Sonny Thoss, Calvin Abueva to seek treatment for injuries, can’t join Philippine team to Lithuania
» Can Alaska Aces repeat ’90s dynasty? Only history will tell, says Fred Uytengsu
» VIDEO | Luigi Trillo talks about journey to lead Alaska Aces to championship