WASHINGTON (AP) — No one in NBA history has coached more games with less success than Randy Wittman.
He's been in charge for 519 of 'em. Won only 190. That winning percentage of .366 makes him the sole owner of last place among the 90 men who have coached at least 400 games since the league started in 1946.
Now on his third team, Wittman will finally coach his first playoff game this weekend, having overseen the Washington Wizards' return from the days of dysfunction.
Until now, he's been mostly known as the guy who supplied the punch line whenever the Wizards lost. He cautioned that "fairy dust" wouldn't descend from the rafters if the team ever got above .500. He railed about players defying "the basketball gods" after selfish play in a loss to Boston. When the Wizards finally clinched their first playoff berth since 2008, he proclaimed: "Let me tell you, it feels like I've been here 20 years."
He's actually been here for five, having arrived as an assistant in 2009. He was promoted to the head job when Flip Saunders was fired in January 2012, the second time he's been asked to take over a struggling team in midseason. His other coaching stint came with the pre-LeBron Cleveland Cavaliers, when he was fired after two seasons in part because it was felt he had lost the respect of his players.
"You learn by being thrown into the fire," Wittman said. "And, yeah, you learn a ton of things that you like and things that, 'Boy, you know, I can't do that. I've got to change that part of my coaching.' ... You mellow out a little bit more, you learn to delegate. Back then, you just tried to have your hands on everything, and you can't do that — it burns you out."
And, along the way, the math gets ugly: 62-102 in Cleveland from 1999-2001, 38-105 with the Minnesota Timberwolves over parts of three seasons until he was fired in December 2008, and 90-122 with a Wizards team that had to rebuild from scratch after implosion of the Gilbert Arenas era.
"I was in the situations that I was in," Wittman said with a shrug, "and all I tried to do was get better and learn and become a better coach."
Perhaps no one can appreciate the evolution better than Wizards midseason signing Andre Miller, who played for rookie coach Wittman in Cleveland. Miller said Wittman has done a good job of mixing in positive feedback, rather than grilling every player over every mistake.