Biff Lombardi is likely to be a footnote in the history of the New York Night. He was the assistant coach for three-plus seasons under Nick Foster, and he became the interim head coach when Foster was fired three weeks ago. The Night have made it clear that they don’t plan to consider him for the permanent job. Perhaps because he knows he’s a short-timer, Lombardi has felt free to speak his mind. And this week, he criticized his team in no uncertain terms, calling their competitiveness and work ethic into question.
Lombardi spoke to the press on Tuesday after a game at Neon Sky Center against New York’s rival, the Hamilton Pistols. In that game, the Night blew a 3-1 lead and lost to the Pistols 4-3. A reporter asked Lombardi why New York lost the game. The interim coach replied, “That’s easy: we went home early. We thought we had the game in the bag, so we let our foot off the gas, and we blew it.”
After a pause, Lombardi went on: “Of course, that shouldn’t be a surprise, since we’ve been going home early all season. When times are good and the spotlight is on, this team knows how to shine. But give ’em half a chance to sleepwalk, and they’ll take it every time.”
Pressed to elaborate, Lombardi referenced Foster’s firing. “You know why Nick got the ax?” he said. “Because he couldn’t make this team care enough to work hard. I know you all thought the feuds Nick picked were ego, or to get his name in the paper. But that wasn’t it; it was the only way he could get this team fired up. You’d think that a team of well-paid professionals could find their own motivation, but you’d be wrong with this group.”
A reporter asked Lombardi if he was concerned his remarks would cause friction with the players. The coach replied, “Who cares? In a week and a half, I’ll be gone. This might be my only chance to get them to take a hard look in the mirror. I can tell you this: teams that win championships work harder than anyone else. They work hard in practice and play hard as a team for the full 60, because that’s what it takes to win at this level. This team might pile up stats and get endorsement deals, but they don’t know how to win a championship. And until they get that, really get it, they never will.”
Unsurprisingly, most of the New York players didn’t take kindly to Lombardi’s critique. “What has he ever won?” said RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson. “I’m a legend in this league, one of the best scorers of all time. What does he know? He’s just bitter because he’s going to get fired.”
“It’s hard to put a lot of stock in that kind of talk from a guy with one foot out the door,” agreed C Brock Manning. “Yeah, we’ve got some work to do. But I’m not going to spend a lot of time worrying about what our soon-to-be-ex-interim coach thinks of us.”
Not everyone was so dismissive of Lombardi’s comments, however. “Honestly, I think there was some truth in what he said,” noted D Dave Frederick. “If we want to get serious about winning the Vandy, we ought to take some of that to heart. And I think we will, once we’ve gotten past the disappointment of this year.”
As Lombardi said, he’ll likely be gone in a couple of weeks. Will the Night dismiss his criticism as well? They’ll have a long offseason to think about it.