OSTON - Bruiser Flint and John Calipari have a lot more in common besides being friends and having coached at the University of Massachusetts.
They are also coaches who have been heavily criticized for their respective team's performance this year and have had their job security questioned.
Flint's UMass team finished the regular season Sunday with a win over Temple, but with a losing record entering Atlantic 10 Conference play. Calipari's New Jersey Nets entered last night's game against the Boston Celtics with a 2-10 record, worst in the Eastern Conference.
"We're calling each other often," Calipari said. "Early on, because we weren't playing, it was more one way."
Flint, who took over as head coach of the Minutemen three years ago when Calipari left for the NBA, was given a vote of confidence by the school by way of a two-year contract extension, while Calipari says the Nets ownership is behind him.
Still, the rumors are out there that the Nets are looking to replace the charismatic coach who still has three years, including the rest of this one, left on his contract good for $9 million.
"Obviously I'm not feeling as good as I did a year ago, but my job as a coach is to stay up," Calipari said. "This is a tough time for us and a learning experience for me."
In 1996, Calipari took over a Nets team that was dismal. After a year of feeling out the pro game, Calipari put together some blockbuster trades and turned the Nets into a playoff team last season. The 43-win season was the largest single-season turnaround in franchise history (17 games).
More of the same was expected this season, but the lockout delayed the season and injuries to point guard Sam Cassell and center Rony Seikaly hurt even more.
Now with one-fifth of the season already gone, the Nets don't have much time to get back in the winning flow and that, along with Calipari's sideline antics, have brought about the rumors.
"Every substitution I make is questioned by the hoard that follows me," said Calipari, who added that the offense has been criticized, even though it is the same offense that led the East last year.
"To a man, every one of our guys is having a down year," Calipari said. "We're trying to stay the course, but you just get to the point where you've got to do something."
Maybe the Nets ownership has the same ideas.
Still, Calipari isn't overwhelmed enough to know what's going on with his old team, the Minutemen, and has some advice for his former assistant coach.
"If you're on a real roll and get into the tournament, who cares?" Calipari said of what has transpired in the regular season. "That's what I tell Bru. It's how you finish."
For Cal's coach sake, hopefully he will take his own advice.
he New Jersey Nets' 99-97 victory over the Celtics last night at the FleetCenter didn't necessarily save John Calipari's job. Just his sanity.
The Nets' coach arrived in Boston looking like a man ready to rip every neatly combed hair out of his head. His battered, bruised and extremely unlucky team had lost dropped six games in a row, including Saturday's 101-92 loss to the Celtics at Continental Airlines Arena. As Calipari prepared the Nets for the rematch, rumors were circulating that his job was in jeopardy.
Calipari was busy before the game answering questions about his job security. The former UMass coach looked a bit weary, but worked up the energy to give the impression his spirits were high. Just a few hours later - after Keith Van Horn's 8-foot jumper clanged high off the rim and fell through the net at the buzzer - Calipari's spirits needed no jump-start.
``Did any team in this league deserve a shot to bounce twice and go in more than this team?'' he asked rhetorically. ``They deserved that bounce, especially Keith, who had missed two free throws (with 58.2 seconds left).
``When the shot went off the rim, my immediate thought was overtime. When it went in, my next thought was I couldn't believe it.''
Given the Nets' fortunes of late, one could hardly argue with Calipari's line of thinking. During New Jersey's slide, he had seen his team lose in every conceivable fashion. Mostly, though, they had wilted down the stretch in close games. Not this time.
``After the shot went in, I ran off the court immediately just in case someone tried to find me to tell me there was more time left on the clock,'' said Calipari. ``If somebody had looked for me to tell me that, they weren't going to find me. I would have been hiding somewhere in the bowels - of the old Boston Garden.''
Said Van Horn: ``It was a relief more than anything else to see the shot go in. We've certainly lost enough tough games at the end, maybe this was the turning point. A last-second win to get us started in the right direction.''
They have plenty of road to make up. The Nets, picked by some to win the Atlantic Division title, are holed up at the opposite end of the standings at 3-10. Before they took their flight to Boston, Calipari informed his team he went to church earlier in the day.
``I'm glad he's still going to church,'' Jayson Williams said before the game. ``I'm glad they're still allowing him in.''
The Nets' All-Star forward had a modified version of his comedy act following the victory: ``When John Calipari walks into a church,'' he said, ``the water starts boiling.''
Williams said all of the Nets would sleep much better last night. But he had to know his coach probably would sleep best. Despite a vote of confidence from Nets' ownership, Calipari, in the third year of a five-year $15 million contract, couldn't escape rumors of his demise. He said as much before the game.
``I've had better times,'' said Calipari, addressing a large media gathering filled with familiar faces from his days at UMass. ``Obviously I'm not feeling as good as a year ago when we were winning games and going on win streaks. But I think my job as a coach is to stay up and to let the guys know I'm not losing faith in them or what we're trying to do. That's all I'm trying to do right now.''
His job got a little easier afterward.
OSTON -- Try as he might, John Calipari is finding it difficult to be his usual upbeat self these days.
Calipari's New Jersey Nets were expected to be among those teams with a legitimate chance to win the Atlantic Division this season. However, even after last night's win over the Celtics, they still have the worst record (3-10) in the Eastern Conference.
"Obviously, I'm not feeling as good as I did a year ago when we were winning games," Calipari said prior to last night's game. "But my job as a coach is to stay up and let the guys know I'm not losing faith in them or what we're doing."
Calipari has been staying up nights trying to figure out a way to turn his team around. After New Jersey's home loss to the Celtics Saturday, a New York Post headline called the Nets, "Calipari's Clowns." Yesterday, the Post reported Calipari's job might be in jeopardy. How did that make Calipari feel?
"I don't even respond to it," Calipari said. "It's a ridiculous question. I just go on and do my job. I've got a contract and I'll just do what I always do."
Including this season, Calipari has three years worth $9 million remaining on his contract. Nets managing partner Lewis Katz publicly supported him last week, but such votes of confidence often turn out to be kisses of death. Calipari told the Post he might step down at the end of his current contract.
"I don't see Cal sweating it," Nets center Jayson Williams said.
Williams obviously didn't see the huge perspiration stains on Calipari's shirt prior to last night's game.
Calipari asked his daughter Megan recently how she thought he was dealing with all the losing and he didn't like it when she told him, "I think you're a good loser."
"I'm not a good loser," he said. "I'm not handling this well at all."
Nets forward Keith Van Horn called the reports of Calipari being on shaky ground "a little premature.
"Maybe if we had our whole squad here with Sam (Cassell) healthy and Rony (Seikaly) healthy, then maybe some of that stuff would be warranted," Van Horn said. "But that's not the case. He hasn't had his team yet."
Injuries to Cassell (sprained ankle) and Seikaly (plantar fasciaitis in his right foot) have hurt. So has the team's poor shooting (38.9 percent). Only the Bulls have worse aim.
Calipari hasn't suffered through a losing season since his first one at UMass, a decade ago. Last season, only his second season with the Nets, he coached New Jersey to its first playoff berth in four years. Then the bottom fell out.
"This is a tough time for us," Calipari said, "but it's a learning experience for me in how to keep the team together and keep it from splintering."
Calipari pointed out that every Net is having a subpar season.
"They have to play the game, but I have to get them to play better," Calipari said, "and I'm not doing it."
Calipari hasn't resorted to lineup changes yet.
"Every substitution I make is questioned by the (media) horde that follows me," Calipari said.
Calipari talks often with Bruiser Flint, his former assistant who isn't having a great season either as coach at UMass.
"They had some tough losses that set them back a little bit," Calipari said. "But if they get on a roll now and get into the tournament, who cares? It's like I tell this team, no one really cares how you start, they want to know how you finish."
Unfortunately for Calipari, he might be finished before the Nets are.