FORMER national coach Rajko Toroman was mysteriously absent from Petron's practice on Wednesday, fanning speculations that the Serb had been relieved as a consultant to head coach Olsen Racela.
Multiple sources have confirmed that Racela presided over the Boosters' practice without Toroman, who used to be a constant presence by the side of the rookie coach since he took over from Ato Agustin in the offseason.
Speculations grew on Wednesday that Toroman had been removed as coaching consultant of Petron - a report San Miguel Corp. sports director Noli Eala refused to confirm on deny.
"No comment," was Eala’s short response when asked by Spin.ph on the sidelines of the San Mig-Rain or Shine match at the Big Dome.
However, two Petron players, including star forward Arwind Santos, confirmed Toroman's absence from practice as well as the information from management that the former Smart Gilas coach will no longer be a consultant for the team.
“Nagulat din lang ako, kasi maaga dumarating si coach Rajko. Pero kanina (Wednesday morning), wala siya. In-announce na lang sa amin na wala na daw muna siya sa team,” Santos said.
Another source said Toroman was informed of management's decision on Tuesday.
Santos said he has no idea on what management intends to do from here, though he assumed that Racela will carry on without Toroman barking instructions during games or in practice.
As pre-tournament favorite Petron struggled through the first games of the season, there have been unconfirmed reports that players have become unhappy with Toroman's ways.
Santos said he will respect whatever decision management makes.
“Kami naman as players, kung ano ang sabihin ng management, susundin namin. Pero ang hope namin, sana magtuloy-tuloy ang magandang pinapakita naming with coach Olsen,” he said.
Meanwhile, a reliable source said Toroman might be offered a coaching spot at San Miguel Beer in the Asean Basketball League, although it is still uncertain if the former Iran national head coach will accept the new designation.
On Saturday, Racela had defended his coaching setup with Toroman even if the situation on the Petron bench looked as chaotic as the Boosters' play in their first few games of the season.
Racela stands on the sidelines shouting out instructions, but so does Toroman. Racela calls the timeouts, but it is his Serbian coaching consultant who presides over the huddle. There was even one game when Toroman snatched the diagram board from Racela's hand and proceeded to map out a play during a break in play.
Racela admits the setup is unique, but he insists it is in no way confusing.
“Siyempre, iba pa rin kasi medyo difficult yung setup kaya nag-adjust din ako sa first few games. Pero di naman confusing ito (setup) para sa mga players," said Petron's rookie coach, shortly after the Boosters ended a three-game losing streak with a 98-95 win over Barangay Ginebra on Saturday.
"Pinag-usapan na naman kasi namin ito ni coach (Rajko). Basically kapag timeout, reminders na lang ang sinasabi namin base sa napag-usapan namin sa practice,” Racela added.
Under the setup, Racela said it was Toroman who is tasked to preside over the huddle.
“Siya (Toroman) ang nauuna talaga sa huddle. Iyan ang pinag-usapan namin. Kaya kung makikita mo, parati akong humahabol sa players before sila pumasok uli sa court, sometimes, to reinforce what was said during the time out,” Racela told Spin.ph.