THE writing was on the wall.
The moment Phoenix management slapped a 15-day suspension on Louie Alas for violating health protocols on the very first day PBA teams return for the start of players’ workouts, one can sense it’s just a matter of time before both parties go their separate ways.
Two weeks after, they did.
On Friday, the Fuel Masters announced they decided to discontinue the service of the same coach that steered the franchise to its first ever semifinals stint in last year’s Philippine Cup.
Alas’ three-year deal with the team was set to end next month.
The team owned by businessman Dennis Uy said in a statement that it has begun to discuss its future plans with the possibility of a PBA start, and Alas obviously was not going to be a part of it.
Deputy head coach Topex Robinson will take over the post left by Alas on an interim basis.
Alas has not answered calls and text messages by SPIN.ph shortly after Phoenix came out with the announcement, but those in the know disclosed that management has been hard on the soft-spoken coach since Calvin Abueva was meted an indefinite suspension by the PBA.
With Abueva gone and some players nursing injuries including original import choice Rob Dozier, the team failed to reach the playoffs of the Commissioners Cup, losing to the Alaska Aces in the battle for the remaining quarterfinals slot after ending in a three-way tie along with Meralco at No. 8.
The same fate befell the Fuel Masters in the season-ending Governors Cup as they finished second to last behind Blackwater.
“Coach Louie is not using excuses about not having Calvin and the injuries to some of the players. But somehow, it made a difference. Si Calvin lang, ano ba averages niya, apart doon sa mga intangibles na nagagawa niya during games,” said a team insider.
“Tsaka kung titignan mo naman ang mga talo, halos dikit naman lahat. Lumalaban naman yung team.”
They say everybody loves a winner. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for the Fuel Masters when the season was over.
“Samantalang nung first conference (Philippine Cup), sino ba nag-expect na makaka-semis yung team,” said the same source, noting how Phoenix finished as the top seed heading to the playoffs, another first in franchise history.
The Fuel Masters gave defending four-time champion San Miguel Beer a tough fight in the semis, but proved no match to the Beermen’s firepower and experience and lost the best-of-seven series, 4-1.
Hopes were then high for the team to sustain their run.
But then came the Abueva episode and other issues that impacted the performance of the team the rest of the season.
“After nun, nag-iba na ang ihip ng hangin,” said the source without elaborating.
In a preseason interview, Alas said he expected the Fuel Masters to figure prominently in the title race especially after acquiring the likes of Bryan Heruela, Jake Pascual, and Jansen Rios.
The COVID-19 pandemic however, set back whatever hopes he had for the team.
Six months after as individual workouts finally began, Alas was too eager to start training that unmindfully, he violated health protocols and other standards set by the league.
Aware that it was an honest mistake on his part, the champion coach was the one who even suggested that management just fine him with the corresponding sanction under the PBA guidelines.
Instead, he was suspended for 15 days without pay.
And just when his suspension was about to end and Alas was anticipating to join the team workouts again, he was told he'll be messaged by management.
The message came in the form of a dismissal letter.
“Hindi na healthy yung relationship. And alam mo doon papunta 'yun,” added the source.