JOHNNY Abarrientos, one of the greatest small men Philippine basketball ever produced, looms as the leading candidate for the head-coaching job of the Far Eastern University amid talk that coach Bert Flores is set to step down.
Multiple sources within the team, who refused to be named as they are not officially authorized to speak on behalf of the school, confirmed the planned resignation of Flores on the heels of FEU’s failure to reach the Final Four this season following two straight trips to the Finals.
Another source revealed to Spin.ph that Flores' departure would be the start of a major revamp for the team, with some players from the current roster not likely to be retained following the Tamaraws’ unceremonial exit from the UAAP's 75th season.
Flores could not be reached for comment as of post time, but he said after the Tamaraws’ playoff defeat at the hands of De La Salle that he will leave his fate to management.
The soft-spoken mentor, who piloted FEU to the 2005 UAAP crown, also said that he will continue to lend support to the team in whatever capacity even if he is no longer the coach.
“Bahala na ang management,” said Flores. “Anytime, andyan lang naman ako sa FEU.”
Abarientos, a former PBA MVP who had a glorious career at FEU from high school to college, served as an assistant to Flores the past two seasons. The two were also teammates in the Tamaraws squad that won the 1992 men’s championship.
“May tumawag na kay Johnny about the possibility of him coaching the team,” said the source.
Abarrientos is currently one of coach Tim Cone’s lieutenants at San Mig Coffee in the PBA. But prior to turning pro, the 5-foot-7 nephew of former PBA player Virgilio `Haba-Haba’ Abarrientos was FEU’s `King Tamaraw’ who piloted the team to back-to-back titles in 1991 and 92, while winning the MVP award in 91.
Despite a planned revamp, whoever will coach FEU would still have a lot of talent to work with, more so if FEU high school star Jerie Pingoy lives up to his word and plays for the Tamaraws next season.
Pingoy, a two-time juniors MVP, declared his loyalty for FEU after leading the Baby Tamaraws to their first UAAP title since the Abarrientos era.
His father, former pro Jerry Pingoy, admitted a lot of schools are trying to recruit his son, but admitted FEU has been very, very good to them.
“As of now FEU Tamaraws,” Pingoy said during an interview with Spin.ph. “Maraming lumalapit, pero maganda naman kasi ang treatment sa amin ng FEU.”
After occupying the top two spots for the most part of the elimination round, the Tamaraws failed to make it to the Final Four for the first time since 2007 despite a 9-5 win-loss record.
The Archers booted the Tamaraws out in their playoff for the No. 4 spot in the semis.
Following his successful title drive seven years ago behind an FEU team anchored by Arwind Santos, Flores was replaced by Glenn Capacio as part of a major revamp following the 2006 season which saw the team also miss the Final Four.
Flores, however, stayed on as an assistant to Capacio.
He reclaimed the head coaching job after Capacio resigned in 2010, and led his team to a return trip to the Finals the following season but lost via sweep to Ateneo.