For Jaime Campos, it was about respect.
Paul Woolpert believed he was simply acting within his duties as coach and general manager of the Yakima SunKings.
In the end, though, the owner has final say and that resulted in Campos firing the popular Woolpert on Wednesday evening, two days before the SunKings play at Albany in the deciding game of the TBL finals.
At issue was Campos’ decision to not send assistant coach Jim Berndt and three players — center Jason Conrad and guards Madison Higgins and Kyle Godfrey — to Albany and Woolpert’s response.
When Woolpert learned of that decision, he posted an item on the team’s Facebook fan page asking for travel sponsors so the entire team could make the trip. Campos objected and asked Woolpert to take the post down, which he said he did.
Still, Campos believed Woolpert had overstepped his bounds and put the franchise in a bad light, leading to his decision, which he delivered to Woolpert in a text that read, “Don’t worry about going to Albany coach I’m firing you.”
“With the post, he doesn’t respect me. He doesn’t respect my family. He doesn’t respect my business,” Campos said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon, adding that he learned of the post when a team sponsor contacted him asking if the team needed money.
“The decision (to fire Woolpert) was made when the coach decided to post something saying ownership needed money to go to Albany. We don’t. He made me sound like I was cheap,” he continued. “I told him that I wasn’t going to take three players. Why should I pay for them to go when they’re not even going to play?
“It’s not about the money. It’s about him (Woolpert). There’s a chain of command and he didn’t respect it. He made it a conflict.”
Woolpert defended the post, noting that other TBL teams have used travel sponsors, pointing out that Albany used such a tactic to send its entire team, two coaches and a trainer to Yakima for the first two games of this series.
“I’m the head coach and general manager. It’s in my contract that I have the final decision on who’s on the team, who plays and who travels,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we send our entire team? My job is to give us the best possibility to win a championship. Our best chance is with our entire team and coaching staff.
“Is he trying to sabotage our chances?”
Although Campos stood by his decision to fire Woolpert, he did relent and all 11 players made the trip — minus both coaches.
Renaldo Major will serve as player-coach, with Campos saying that Cedric Jackson, who played on last season’s title team, is planning to travel to Albany and assist Major.
Woolpert said he sent his entire playbook with the team and suggested plays but knows it will be a difficult task Friday.
“There’s a multitude of challenges. There’s too many to list,” he said, adding that’s he’s not sure he can watch the livestream of the game. “I honestly don’t know. It’ll be extremely hard to watch. I don’t know if I could.”
Caught in the middle, the players showed their support for Woolpert with many of them going to his house after learning the news Wednesday night.
“A number of them said that if I was not going, they won’t go,” he said. “I told them that’s not right. They needed to go back and try to win back to back championships. We always talk about being professionals and I think they’ll go out and play as hard as possible.”
Campos agreed on that, saying, “I’m pretty sure they’re not happy but I hope they’re professionals. They play for the Yakima SunKings.”
Campos and Woolpert had clashed at times in the past, most notably earlier this season over forward Brent Schuck, who was also working in the team’s office. Originally, Campos wanted Schuck fired and released but the sides got together and settled on a three-game suspension for the player.
Despite the conflicts, both said they believed they had a working respect for each other.
“There’s always differences between coaches and owners,” Campos said. “There were other things I was not happy about but I thought we had worked through them. I thought I was on good terms with Paul until this.
“I felt I treated Paul very well and I wish Paul all the best. He’s a great coach. There was a reason I hired him.”
“We had some differences but I thought we had gotten through that,” Woolpert said. “I thought we had a mature relationship.”
Woolpert led the SunKings to a TBL-best 22-6 record this season and they’ve won three of four playoff games entering Friday. Last season, Yakima had the NAPB’s best record at 24-8 en route to beating Albany for the championship. Woolpert has coached the SunKings for nine seasons dating back to the Continental Basketball Association, compiling a 262-151 regular-season record and a 21-12 playoff mark with his teams winning three CBA titles in addition to last season’s crown. He was also an assistant coach when Yakima won its first CBA title in 1995.
As for the future, Campos said the SunKings will be back next season and that he’ll look at all of his options regarding the team’s next head coach.
“It’s not about me. It’s not about coach. It’s about the Yakima SunKings,” Campos said. “I had to make a decision for the franchise, good or bad. Only time will tell.”
Woolpert said he’ll also explore his options and that he and his wife Nicole will remain in Yakima. Both said they’ve been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received.
“This is our home but in all probability, I’ll be coaching somewhere else next year,” he said, adding that he will continue to support the franchise. “I’m a Yakima SunKing for life and I’m hoping nothing but the best for this franchise, no matter who the owners are.”