Caja Laboral of Spain on Sunday fired head coach Dusko Ivanovic, who had occupied its bench for most of the century and led the club to a pair of Euroleague title games and its first Final Four. Ivanovic, 55 years old, was let go after a Spanish League home loss on Sunday, despite the team holding a 5-3 record in that competition. In the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, however, Caja Laboral has a 1-5 record and sits alone in last place of Group C, in danger of missing the Top 16 for a second consecutive season. The team's worst-ever start in the Euroleague has been complicated by losing all three of its home games by progressively higher differences, the last being a 72-89 defeat at the hands of defending champion Olympiacos Piraeus on Thursday.
"We have to make these types of decisions, however painful they may be, but in this moment the club needs it," club president Josean Querejeta said at a press conference. "The team is hurting. It's playing worse every day. We are in bad shape in the Euroleague. To not reach the Top 16 would be a failure, although we still have some options.
"It's a tough decision. Dusko has been special: for his work, for his dedication, for his commitment, for everything."
Speaking at the same press conference, Ivanovic said he didn't expect the club's decision, but he understands it.
"I want to thank everyone for these 10 marvelous years, these great fans, this city, all the people, because it has been a true pleasure," Ivanovic said. "I only have words of thanks.
"Caja Laboral is a big club in Europe and it will keep being a big club in Europe."
Ivanovic joined Tau Ceramica, as the team was called then, in 2000 and immediately achieved its biggest success yet, passage to that seasons Euroleague playoff finals, where it took eventual champion Kinder Bologna to the fifth and final game. Five years later, Ivanovic not only led Tau to its first Final Four, but to a second single-game title shot after a semifinals upset over CSKA, which boasted what is still the best winning percentage in the Euroleague all century at that moment and was playing at home in Moscow. Tau lost to defending champ Maccabi Tel Aviv in that year's final, while Ivanovic left for two-and-a-half seasons as head coach of FC Barcelona Regal. He returned to Vitoria and the team now called Caja Laboral in 2008 and reached the playoffs three consecutive seasons, without managing to make the last step to the Final Four. Last season, Caja Laboral was eliminated from the Top 16 for the first time in a tie-breaker at the end of the regular season.
Ivanovic was a playing star who won consecutive Euroleague titles in 1989 and 1990 as captain of Jugoplastika Split. As a head coach in Switzerland, France and Spain, Ivanovic has won a combined six national titles in addition to the 2000 Korac Cup with Limoges of France and six national cups. The club confirmed the dismissal with a tweet that thanked Ivanovic for his many years in the club and wished him luck in the future. No mention was made of who might coach the team in its next game on the road Friday against Zalgiris, Kaunas.