Former Phoenix head coach Louie Alas believed good things were coming soon for a Fuel Masters team that provided him a fitting stage for his PBA coaching comeback.
Unfortunately, Alas won't be able to stick around to see those plans through.
"Feeling ko itong second coming ko sa PBA as a head coach, feeling ko maganda na itong mangyayari sa Phoenix eh. Kaya lang may mga bagay kang hindi kontrolado," Alas said Tuesday on The Link podcast.
Alas, fired Saturday by the same Phoenix team that three years ago gave him a PBA head coaching job for the first time since 2001, spoke in detail about the optimism he felt over the team's chances to make a deep run once the league resumes the suspended 2020 season.
"Itong conference na 'to, nag-prepare kami ng maayos dito. Nag-hire pa ko ng three weeks ng isang Croatian coach before the pandemic happened. We were preparing very, very well for this season. But sabi nga nila, may mga bagay na hindi mo kontrolado," he said.
In a restart of the Philippine Cup in October, Alas firmly believed Phoenix would fare well because of a possible return sometime in the conference by suspended star forward Calvin Abueva and the absence of six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo for five-time reigning All-Filipino champion San Miguel.
"Sabi ko baka ito na 'yung pinaka-magandang mangyayari because Calvin will be coming back. Ine-expect ko na hindi man siya maglaro sa first game namin, hindi magtatagal maglalaro siya sa All-Filipino," said Alas.
"Hindi naman natin gustong ma-injury si June Mar, pero 'yung injury ni June Mar nagbigay ng magagandang chances 'yan sa lahat ng teams kasi 'yung playing field ay parehas na parehas na. That's why I was very, very excited even during the pandemic na magkaroon ng restart," he added.
That excitement might have been a bane for Alas once practices got underway in the last week of August.
"Noong magbalik kami noong August 26, that was a red mark in my calendar," he admitted. "So sobrang excitement siguro, sobrang gusto ko ma-perform ng tamang-tama 'yung dapat kong gawin, nakapag-commit ako ng unintentional na very, very slim, mali talaga na violation na sabi nga ng mga nagsasabi sa'kin, kung sa ibang team 'yon, baka male-let go 'yun. Pero sa amin, talagang na-fine ako ng pagkalaki-laki."
On September 2, Phoenix management announced that it had slapped a 15-day suspension on the coach for breaching safety protocols on just the first day of team workouts.
Alas admitted to three violations: for entering the practice facility ahead of the first batch when he wasn't set for a schedule until the second batch, for entering the court during the disinfection process -- the coach said he was simply opening the window for the staff while she cleaned -- and for asking the team's physical therapist to tape his dislocated finger.
Alas said he didn't deny a thing when asked by management about his violations and readily asked to be fined for his infractions, though he said team manager Paolo Bugia took offense when the two talked in a series of text messages.
"Sabi ko lang dahil sobrang frustrated ko sa sarili ko, I told manager Bugia na, 'Yeah, nagawa ko 'yan. Fine me na lang.' He found that arrogant na parang, 'Ba't mo ko hinahamon i-fine ka?'" he shared.
"Hindi ko naman ita-tanggi kasi hindi ko naman alam na violation eh. Sabi ko yes, kung violation then fine me. 'Yun lang sinabi ko," Alas continued. "Pagkatapos noon nagkaroon na kami ng series of [conversations], parang arrogant daw 'yung ano ko. Sabi ko, 'Bugs kasi dati naman nung nag-uusap tayo basta may ganitong sitwasyon, tinatawagan mo ko eh. Bakit mo tinetext ngayon?'"
"Masama ang dating ng text siguro. Then sinabi niya 15 days without pay. Sabi ko, 'Tagal kong hinintay ito, almost six months tapos ito, babakasyon na naman ako? Baka pwedeng ma-appeal 'yan.' Right then and there sabi niya hindi na raw."
Ten days after announcing the internal suspension, Phoenix then "decided to discontinue Mr. Louie Alas' services" as the team's head coach. The Fuel Masters compiled a 33-33 win-loss record under the 56-year-old mentor, who was not able to begin contract extension negotiations with management.
"Ang una kong sinabi sa kanila is maging honest lang kami sa isa't isa. If feeling niyo I'm not capable of leading the team, just let me know. Meaning, performance-based 'yung kontrata ko. Pero ang kontrata ko kasi mage-end ng October 31st this year. Hindi ako nanghingi ng extension pero since alam ko namang magsa-start 'yung conference before mag-end 'yung contract ko, naturally mae-extend 'yon until mag-end 'yung conference," he said.
Asked about his future plans, Alas said he'll simply embrace any challenges that come his way.
"Kapag may dumating, hindi ako tatalikod. Haharapin ko. 'Yung basketball, tatlong araw lang mawala sa katawan mo 'yan, hinahanap mo na 'yan," said the coach.