[Editor's note: First of a two-part series]
CHICAGO - Notoriously aloof toward the media, coach Tab Baldwin would rather talk about the weather instead of his magnificent exploits on the basketball sidelines.
But two days ago, the savvy tactician liberated himself from such inhibitions and called to clear the air about the controversy that followed his departure from Gilas.
As I had expected, coach Tab turned out to be intelligent, level-headed, and profoundly articulate.
Listening to him was a gift to the ears. Here's coach Tab in his own words.
SPIN.PH: What really caused the break-up between you and the SBP?
COACH TAB: I want to set the record straight.
But first, nobody can try to encapsulate the decisions that led to my departure as just happening in a moment in time. There is history, complexity and larger interests than just one man and a job at stake.
My dream was to be part of the World Cup effort and help MVP achieve something special in the hosting of this tournament.
My role as program director was a contracted role and one I took seriously.
Part of that role was to be involved in the selection of our head coach. At the same time, I was under contract as the head coach of Ateneo University, also a role I take extremely seriously.
As the February window approached, it became clear that there would be major conflicts in the assembling of a team. Also conspiring against our program was my brother's serious health issue which took me back to the US for the month of December as I assumed the care for his recovery from a heart procedure.
Upon my return in early January, I saw Gilas was in a tough situation forming a roster for the February window. After meeting MVP to address the matter, my beliefs were that because of scheduling conflicts with the UAAP and PBA, the roster would most likely be composed primarily of players from the MVP group of PBA teams.
Along with this was the practice that we had already employed; rotating the coaching position. First, coach Mark Dickel in Indonesia, then coach Jong Uichico in Bahrain, then myself in Pampanga.
[READ: Bay Area coach left impressed by Tab's 'drilled' Ateneo side]
In light of all of this, I suggested to MVP that Chot Reyes would be a good candidate for the February window as he had experience in international coaching and many of the players would certainly come from his very successful TNT squad.
Subsequent to this meeting, it was decided by SBP, for the sake of stability in the program on many levels, that they would make a change and appoint Chot for the long term rather than just one window.
It was also decided to put the program in Chot's hands in order to avoid the dilemma of having two high-profile coaches with differing philosophies potentially working in conflict rather than in harmony.
Although disappointed, I understood the rationale and accepted the decision.
SPIN.PH : Why did you mute yourself after a stunning exit that captivated the nation?
COACH TAB: After the SBP and I parted ways last January I wanted to avoid commenting in the media because I didn't want to add fire to the initial fan reaction.
My belief was that the commotion would settle down and the SBP, Gilas and I could all get to work on our various objectives.
SPIN.PH: Were you surprised it ended the way it did considering your tremendous success with the program?
COACH TAB: Coaching is an unstable business at the best of times and I've been in similar situations in the past.
I believe it to be in everyone's best interest to just move on with my job at Ateneo knowing that I wouldn't help anyone to bring any negative attention to the World Cup effort especially since my boss MVP, was the driving force and I was still working for Ateneo.
I've learned in my career not to let my feelings influence my reactions to whatever would eventuate through the job.
SPIN.PH: Why break the silence now?
COACH TAB: As this saga has continued and the social media noise became more negative and refusing to die down, I became more and more uncomfortable with the tone of the public's criticisms and, likewise, with my own silence.
After the Saudi game, and seeing a "home" crowd treat members of our national team with any level of non-support, and even disrespect, I knew I was just plain wrong to sit on the sidelines any longer.
Hearing Dwight Ramos and Jordan Clarkson's comments, the right thing to do became clear. Basketball has always been a team sport and there are many examples throughout the history of our sport where the home crowd has been known as the "sixth man" because of the passion and love of the fans for their team.
The Philippines has always been an example of this and it is far too precious to lose it as we head to the 2023 World Cup.
SPIN.PH: How can this discord and negative vibes be healed?
COACH TAB: We must resurrect this passion and support our national team and put all personal interests aside. This World Cup endeavor is a monumental undertaking and every single person involved will be making huge sacrifices and taking on significant personal risks because of the magnitude of the task.
For anyone that says there won't be mistakes made along the way is just not realistic. In spite of our faults and errors, a united front will always be our best policy and give us the best chance to succeed.
I want every Gilas fan to know that my support will be one-hundred percent behind our team and all those working to make this undertaking to bring glory to the Philippines and our basketball-loving nation a success.
My support will be for MVP and his management group, the SBP, the players and coaches.
SPIN.PH: Do you have any regrets on how things played out?
COACH TAB: Finally, in deference to those who have continued to fight for our national team in what has become a most difficult landscape, I wish to offer my heartfelt apology for my shortcomings in being a part of the problem rather than the solution.
My original meeting with MVP about the February window was poor in its timing, leaving Chot and the team little time to prepare properly for the February window.
And, going so long without speaking out has perhaps also been poor judgment on my part.
Also, I believe much of the angst felt by the public is a combination of the success of the '21 Gilas team versus South Korea (a team that had ample preparation time and shouldn't be compared to teams with less prep time), the uncertainty surrounding the coaching change, and the ensuing results against powerhouse New Zealand.
This combination of events was a cocktail for an unhappy fan base.
But, let me assure everyone that the efforts being made by the SBP and the team are genuine efforts to bring a winning team to 2023 World Cup.
Let me be clear here as well, nobody has sought my comments at this time. I'm speaking because I genuinely still desire to see MVP, the Gilas players and coaches, and all those involved be successful.
I pray for unity in the pursuit of glory for our national team and for the Philippines.