LEO Austria's appointment as San Miguel Beer coach has bolstered the belief that former PBA commissioner Noli Eala is once again involved in San Miguel Corp.'s basketball operations.
Eala used to be the sports director of SMC until he was moved to the company's infrastructure division last year following a number of controversies, including a reported disagreement with Alfrancis Chua that led to the latter's resignation as Ginebra coach.
However, there are signs that Eala is once again involved - overtly or covertly - in the running of SMC's three basketball teams beginning with the appointment of Austria, head coach of the SMB team in the Asean Basketball League (ABL) which Eala formed.
Even Austria did not deny the fact that it was the former PBA commissioner who approached him and relayed to him the interest of SMC big boss Ramon S. Ang to tap him for the Beermen coaching job.
“Hindi naman directly na siya (ang tumulong sa akin). Kinontak niya lang ako dahil ipina-kontak ako sa kanya ni RSA (Ang),” Austria bared.
“Tapos siya ang nag-bridge sa akin na pumunta sa meeting with RSA, siya nagsabi,” he added.
After lying low for months, Eala was spotted at the Smart Araneta Coliseum when San Mig beat Rain or Shine in the final game of the PBA Governors Cup Finals last month to complete a season grand slam.
It is widely known that it was Eala who worked on Tim Cone's move from Alaska to San Mig.
Just recently, Spin.ph has reported that Rain or Shine confirmed an approach from Eala regarding star guard Paul Lee, whose contract with the Elasto Painters will expire at the end of the month.
Rain or Shine co-owner Raymund Yu confirmed the Eala approach.
“San niyo nalaman yan?” said Rain or Shine big boss Raymund Yu. “Pero nasabi nga rin sa akin ni (co-owner) Terry (Que) 'yan, na nilapitan nga raw siya ni Noli at hinihingi si Paul.”
On Saturday, another source told Spin.ph that Eala is working on a possible move of Asi Taulava - his former player in San Miguel's ABL team - to the San Miguel group, possibly with Ginebra.
An MVP contender last season, Taulava is still in negotiations for a new deal with NLEX Warriors, the new owner of his playing rights after their acquisition of the Air21 franchise.
It is not known if Eala is working on these moves in an official capacity, which should create internal problems for the SMC group since he is known to have strained relationships with Chua, now the Ginebra governor, and SMC head of basketball operations Robert Non.
That should be a question better left to SMC top honcho Ang to answer.