12 days of X-Mas – Obscure stats in Suns history Day 7

JAN 22 1974, JAN 24 1974 Coach Bill Van Breda Kolff's face tells ***** Credit: Denver Post, Inc. (Denver Post via Getty Images)
JAN 22 1974, JAN 24 1974 Coach Bill Van Breda Kolff's face tells ***** Credit: Denver Post, Inc. (Denver Post via Getty Images) /

When Earl Watson was fired, Suns fans world-wide (literally) cheered.

And as it came only three games into the season, it set the franchise record for fewest games into a season that a head coach was shown the door, breaking the prior record by four games.

It is that number seven that brings us to the Valley of the Suns’ 12 Days of Christmas Lost or Obscure Stats: Day 7.

Following two successful though playoff-empty seasons, in the summer of 1972, Cotton Fitzimmons left his position as head coach of the Phoenix Suns and moved on to Atlanta leaving the position vacated for General Manager Jerry Colangelo to fill. He did so, with Butch Van Brenda Kolff, a long-time college coach, and NBA head coach for a portion of the prior five years.

Phoenix Suns
Phoenix Suns /

Phoenix Suns

I say a portion of, because from 1969-71, Butch had been with Detroit, racking up an 82-92 record, before being fired 10 games (and with a 6-4 record) into the 1971-92 season.

Butch wasn’t a nobody with a terrible track record though. From 1967-69 he led the Los Angeles Lakers to 107 wins with back-to-back NBA Finals apperances, both losses to the Boston Celtics. 1968 ended in six games, ‘69 ended in seven.

He then immediatey took over the Detroit Pistons who hadn’t had a winning record since 1955-56, and in his second season led them to a 45-37 record, the 7th best record in the league. The Pistons missed the playoffs, but only because of the Conference alignment as at that time they were placed in the West where they finished 6th (three games behind the Suns who also missed the playoffs) although had they been in the East where they currently reside, they would have been 3rd.

Colangelo hired Butch because of his experience. A veteran Suns team, he felt, needed a veteran coach. It seemed like a perfect match and a perfect replacement for Cotton, a no-nonsense head coach who demanded dedication from his team, the way Colangelo demanded dedication of his head coach.

There was a problem in this relationship though: Butch Van Brenda Kolff wasn’t that kind of head coach.

Unbeknownst to fans and the media, although brutally obvious to Colangelo, Butch ran a very soft training camp, did not press his team during the preseason, ran mellow practices, and through seven games during the regular season, did no push his team or demand enough of them in the eyes of the General Manager.

Thus, only seven games into his head coaching stint with the Phoenix Suns, and a 4-3 record that included a three game win-streak (something that Earl Watson never accomplished), Butch Van Brenda Kolff was fired, which stands to this day as the shortest head coaching tenure in franchise history.

One might be surprised that a head coach would be fired after only seven games. Hardly a stretch of time to really get to know a head coach and a system. But there was one visible aspect to the Phoenix Suns that was noticeable to all: the Suns could score, but they couldn’t defend with any consistency.

Through those seven games, the Suns averaged a league-high 115.6 points per game, but were allowing an even 116.0, the league’s worst, obviously entirely unacceptable,e for a team who had won 49 games the season before. To better put that into context, the Suns had only allowed 110.8 points per game the season prior under Fitzimmons, and averaged 112.6 the rest of the way in 72-73 under Colangelo.

Next: 12 Days of Christmas Onscure and Lost Stats: Day 6

Very similar to Earl Watson too. Through his three games prior to firing, Watson allowed 128.7 points per game. Since his firing (through December 31, 2017), the Suns have allowed a meager, by comparison, 110.9 points per game.