"Beleaguered" would be the perfect word to describe Stan Van Gundy's brief career in Madison, if "disheveled" wasn't also available. But now he stands on the brink of redemption.
Van Gundy took over as Badger men's basketball coach in July 1994 after his predecessor, Stu Jackson, bailed on Wisconsin to work for the Vancouver Grizzlies, an NBA expansion team. Van Gundy was fired after finishing the 1994-95 season 13-14 and ninth in the Big Ten.
The Grizzlies ended up moving to Memphis, and Jackson became the NBA's executive vice president, in charge of discipline. Van Gundy is now coaching the Orlando Magic in the NBA finals against the L.A. Lakers.
Van Gundy was something of a lovable loser. Pro hoops money hasn't changed that about him. Under his suit jacket, which he seems to discard immediately after each game, he wears what looks like a sweat-wicking T-shirt. Addressing the media, he rakes his hair and puzzles over a loss in the same tone of voice he uses to celebrate a victory.
That makes Van Gundy the exact opposite of his Lakers counterpart, Phil Jackson, who has won two NBA titles as a player and nine as a coach. Jackson is often called "Zen Master" for his calm demeanor and references to Buddhist teachings.
When Van Gundy was run out of Madison, local student newspaper sports writers rejoiced. One column ran under the memorable headline "Put Van Gundy on the Van Galder"; another was titled simply, "Van Gone-dy." If those writers, now in their 30s, have any sense of poetry, they're pulling for the Magic.