- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Sally Anthony is the kind of sports owner Courtney Love possibly would be if the latter ever felt compelled to take her personal train wreck of a life to a team near you.

Anthony is both a budding pop singer and an “owner gone wild,” a reality show all her own, with the trailer-park spirit of Jerry Springer and the head-rolling management style of Donald Trump, who, in a span of about 12 hours, easily surpassed the over-the-top maneuverings of George Steinbrenner, Mark Cuban and Dan Snyder.

Anthony, so goes the conflicting story that reads like a publicity stunt gone bad, either fell down the stairs and hit her head or was bitten by a dog or mixed alcohol with the anxiety-relieving drug Xanax before waking up in “the psych ward” the day after walking onto the court to fire the basketball coach of the Nashville Rhythm last weekend.

Anthony, one of three owners of the American Basketball Association franchise, also is said to have a bad back, a bad temper and a bad mouth, which adds up to a lot of “issues,” the handy euphemism of the times intended to soften the unsatisfactory deportment of the live wires in our midst.

Anthony appears to have perfected the trashing-of-the-hotel-room part of the rock’n’roll job, or in this case the trashing of a coach, an ex-Vanderbilt star player and a team.

The Nashville Tennessean, to its credit, is mining this movie-of-the-week material with an agreeable efficiency, as the fate of the franchise seemingly hangs in the balance following the 30-year-old owner’s implosion.

This is the soap opera that keeps on giving because Anthony has been unable to keep her end of the story straight so far, she is married to one of the other owners and fired the first female coach of a men’s professional team who happens to have a 17-7 record.

The tempest ensued after Anthony ordered coach Ashley McElhiney not to play the recently signed Matt Freije in a game Saturday night. Hers was an explicitly peculiar request, given the reason behind the signing of Freije. As an ex-star at Vanderbilt with a following in Nashville, Freije was signed to a two-game contract, at a cost of $10,000, to boost attendance, if not give the team a competitive edge. The 6-foot-10 forward was a second-round pick of the Miami Heat in June who became available only after being released by the New Orleans Hornets on Jan. 21.

McElhiney, being a coach with a clue, ignored the request not to play Freije, which resulted in Anthony storming the floor in the third quarter of the game to inform the coach that her services no longer were needed. An assistant coach and security guards had to restrain the ill-tempered Anthony and escort her from the floor before play eventually resumed.

The players, in the fashion of a Hollywood script, rallied from an 18-point deficit to win the game by one point, followed by an overwrought Anthony either falling down the stairs or being bitten by a dog or employing the home remedy of alcohol and Xanax to help assuage her foul mood in the wee hours following the game.

McElhiney was left to be history’s coach anew, pushing beyond being the first female coach of a men’s professional team. She also is the first coach, male or female, to be fired in the middle of a game in view of the home crowd.

The players are continuing to rally behind their ex-coach, insisting that she be retained.

“As far as we’re concerned, Ashley is the coach of the team right now,” center Adam Sonn says.

The ownership, in an e-mail yesterday, issued an apology to McElhiney, fans, sponsors, the city of Nashville and Lipscomb University, where the team plays its home games. The subject of McElhiney’s fate was not addressed in the e-mail.

Stay tuned.

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