Leo Austria says Coach of Year hat-trick a testament to SMB's cohesion, winning culture
SMB coach Leo Austria receives the perpetual Baby Dalupan trophy from PBA Press Corps president Gerry Ramos of SPIN.ph and the family of the late Crispa coach after winning the PBA Coach of the Year award for the third straight year. Jerome Ascano

HE’S the toast of PBA coaching the past three seasons, yet that doesn’t stop Leo Austria from continuously learning and improving his craft.

Despite the championships won with San Miguel, Austria has managed to keep his feet on the ground and said he still tries to learn from his fellow coaches, be it those in the highest level or from the grassroots.

“I’m always a student of the game,” admitted Austria after becoming the first to bring home the perpetual Virgilio ‘Baby’ Dalupan trophy for winning a third straight Coach of the Year award during the PBA Press Corps Awards Night on Thursday at the Gloria Maris Restaurant inside the Gateway Mall.

“I have to keep on learning, and even sa mga grassroots pumupunta pa rin ako at nanonood. There’s something you can pick up from them,” he said. “Gusto ko updated ako sa nangyayari sa paligid natin because basketball is in my heart.”

Austria, a former Rookie of the Year who played in the league from 1985 to 1993, steered the Beermen to a third straight Philippine Cup championship to likewise bag the perpetual Emilio ‘Jun’ Bernardino trophy.

San Miguel went on to win the Commissioner’s Cup title and was on course to completing a historic grand slam only to be ambushed by Barangay Ginebra in the quarterfinals of the season-ending Governors Cup.

Despite the Beermen coming short of their grand goal, there was no denying Austria of his moment.

In winning the same award that had been his the past two years, the humble 59-year-old mentor bested the likes of Barangay Ginebra’s Tim Cone, Chito Victolero of Star, and TnT Katropa’s Nash Racela.  

He said his fellow coaches are the ones who inspire him to be always at his best.

“I would also like to thank the other great coaches in the PBA, Tim Cone, coach Norman, coach Yeng, coach Nash, etc. Without them, I also wouldn’t be here today,” he said during his brief speech. “That’s the beauty of our league. As coaches, we learn from each other and we push each other to our limit.”

The native of Sariaya, Quezon was also grateful to the support given him by SMC president and chief executive officer Ramon S. Ang, the management, coaching staff, and the utilities.

Austria offered the award to his players, who he said are the ones who make him really look good.


“They are the real winners, the players who execute the plays, and win games.  As they say, you can bring the horses to the water, but you can’t force it to drink,” he stressed.

“From the first day of practice before last season started, they showed their respect to everyone, they showed dedication, and they built the winning culture within and among them,” Austria added.

“Winning the Coach of the Year is not just an individual award, but it is a testament to the team’s success, cohesiveness, and winning culture. I wouldn’t be here without them.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @gerardmos