- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2009

The Washington Wizards had just snapped a six-game losing streak with a 106-94 victory against the visiting Los Angeles Clippers. A weary-looking Ed Tapscott took the podium for his postgame news conference, let out a sigh, backed away from the mic to cough, collected himself and then said, “All right, fire away.”

His voice was raspy - the result of strained vocal cords from yelling during games and practices. And his eyes were bleary, a byproduct of near-sleepless nights, long hours and a long bout with the flu.

Despite the outward indications and the Wizards’ 10-37 record, Tapscott - who jokes “NyQuil is my drink of choice these days; sad state of affairs, huh?” - insists he still is living the dream.

That dream never seemed likely 18 years ago when he coached his last game at American University and a year later when he began working in the New York Knicks’ front office. Even in 2004, when he became the chief operating officer of the Charlotte Bobcats, it didn’t look like Tapscott would get his shot.

But when Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld fired Eddie Jordan in November after a 1-10 start, Tapscott took over as interim coach.

When he did, he had the goal of shifting the Wizards’ focus from the offense-first approach to being a physical, defense-oriented squad. He preached the importance of slowing the pace and making opponents work for points.

Thirty-six games later, the Wizards’ struggles have continued. Washington has experienced a small bit of success when it comes to limiting opponents’ production. After giving up an average of 103.5 points during the first 11 games, the Wizards have allowed 100.4 points a game under Tapscott.

Tapscott has tried to get the Wizards to attack the basket for easy scoring opportunities and draw fouls rather than settle for jump shops. But Tapscott’s charges often fall back into their old habits - only to miss the jumpers - and in turn fall behind and fail to recover. And the wins also have remained elusive.

Tapscott has admitted that correcting the Wizards’ ills has been more difficult than he expected. He joked that with so many young players on the roster, he has “not only to coach them but to teach them, entertain them, inspire them and at times ignore them.”

Despite the ongoing challenges and taxing schedule, Tapscott doesn’t regret accepting the job. And he won’t let the flu derail him.

“Look, I came to this position late in life without any expectation of actually doing this. This is one of the great privileges of the sporting world: to be a coach of a professional franchise at this level,” the 55-year-old said. “So I’m going to coach every game. If I had to coach prone, I’ll do so. They’ll fix me a gurney and a stretcher over there - I’ll coach from my back.”

When Grunfeld, who could not be reached for comment Sunday, named Tapscott the interim coach, the word was that the Wizards would wait until the season ended to address Jordan’s permanent replacement. Tapscott likely will give way to a new coach this summer.

But despite the uncertain future and the Wizards’ many losses, the coach said he wouldn’t trade the opportunity he has experienced this season.

“This is one of life’s special gifts, and I’m going to try to enjoy every minute of it despite the fact that I don’t look like I am - I am,” he said. “You have to keep that perspective. Winning, losing, whatever we do, we are all very, very fortunate to be in the NBA. I came across the bench in college, and as I remember, when I was a college coach, we didn’t stay in Four Seasons, travel in charter jets, and it took me two months to get the level per diem we get in one day.

“So I try to keep in perspective, whether you have success or you’re struggling, you have to at least appreciate the opportunity that has come to you.”

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