A different San Miguel Beermen was seen during their match against the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters last Sunday, January 29, probably because Leo Austria is no longer heading the team.
The Beermen began their 2023 Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Governor’s Cup campaign with a commanding performance, decimating Phoenix, 114-93, at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City. Their performance was eye-catching but not as much as the visible “comfortability” of players playing under their new coach, Jorge Gallent.
Beermen star June Mar Fajardo admitted to Daily Inquirer that they played the opening game “OK so far.” He hoped the team could sustain the momentum, especially with Gallent’s instructions.
As for Austria, Fajardo was glad he could relax and be stress-free since, according to SMB, the 64-year-old coach is on “sabbatical.”
“As with ‘Pops,’ he’s still with the team, so we still get to see him. I’m happy for him. He gets to relax, and I think he gets to play more [recreational] basketball at his place.”
Fajardo became one of the league’s greatest centers thanks to Austria, becoming a six-time Most Valuable Player (MVP) and a nine-time champion.
Is he really on sabbatical?
Although no longer the head coach, Austria remained part of SMB, eventually becoming a ‘consultant,’ said Beermen’s team manager Gee Abanilla.
“Coach Leo met with management a few days ago and informed us that he wishes to take a coaching sabbatical for personal reasons starting the Governors’ Cup,” he revealed earlier on Saturday. “We respect his decision, and we understand his situation as we fully support whatever he needs.”
Abanilla added, “With this development, he will remain with the team as a consultant, and we have elevated Jorge Gallent as the head coach.”
However, Austria’s son, Bacon, shared a hint that the “voluntary” exit of his father as head coach was far from the truth.
“These people can’t even get their statements right, scrambling for imaginary excuses,” wrote Bacon on his Twitter.
These people can’t even get their statements right 🤷🏻♂️ scrambling for imaginary excuses… 🤦🏻♂️
— Bacon Austria (@baconaustria) January 21, 2023
Fans speculated that the change in the coaching department was due to Austria’s failure to give SMB another chip.
“Not a fan of your father as a coach with all due respect. Pero Grabe naman an lg dami nang pinanalo niyan tapos isang conference na hindi mag champion after winning a championship tanggal?” wrote a netizen.
Not a fan of your father as a coach with all due respect. Pero Grabe naman an lg dami nang pinanalo niyan tapos isang conference na hindi mag champion after winning a championship tanggal?
— Earl Lewis (@mfbarl25) January 21, 2023
It was the Bay Area Dragons and the Brgy. Ginebra Gin Kings that met in the finals. The former defeated SMB in a best-of-five series with a standing of 3-1.
Austria’s Dominance as Beermen’s Coach
Being a consultant is a demotion compared to having the power to make plays and order players as a coach.
The decision of the management to sideline the legendary coach saddened Arwind Santos, former Beermen. He believed that Austria still had enough fuel in him to lead the team to another chip.
“I feel sad for coach Leo. For me, it’s not yet time for him to move on,” he told Inquirer in Filipino. “Firstly, he was coming off a championship run in the all-Filipino. If for three conferences and they didn’t win one, [the move] would’ve made sense.”
In his time as Beermen’s head coach, Leo Austria turned things around when the team struggled. He made sure that the players around Fajardo were built for not just one but multiple championships. Out of eight Finals appearances beginning in 2015, Austria contributed seven rings to SMB.