Games are largely won thanks to the players themselves. Yet behind these athletes is a coach that brings out the best in them. Sure, the players make the winning plays, but coaches laying out options and putting athletes in a position to win has its own value as well.
The San Miguel Beermen recently won their sixth PBA Philippine Cup title in the last eight editions of the All-Filipino Conference and it was largely done thanks to some constants. June Mar Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter, and Chris Ross were all there during the entirety of the Beermen’s illustrious run (so far), but one shouldn’t forget SMB head coach Leo Austria, who was with them from the start as well.
Depending on one’s perspective, Austria has guided, managed, and has very much well been a major part of San Miguel’s dynastic run in the Philippine Cup. Winning a championship at any level isn’t easy, since it’s done over a well-thought of strategy and its proper execution over the course of a conference or season and not simply by just winning games. This doesn’t even include the curveballs that come out of nowhere that can either make or break a team’s championship aspirations.
SMB’s recent conquest of the TNT Tropang Giga in seven games during the 2022 Honda PBA Philippine Cup Finals was an example of all of that. It wasn’t just a return to glory as it was a testament to how Austria has been instrumental in adapting to the constantly evolving basketball landscape. One had to also remember that Austria did this while working with some fresh faces with little to no championship experience and a Fajardo that just came from a major leg injury (but he has eventually returned to the Fajardo of old).
The purported knock on Austria has been that he has had a lot of talent to work with, but then again what’s talent if it’s not maximized? While some coaches are known for their innovative schemes or their colorful personalities, the former PBA player has been known to let his work and the results speak for themselves, all while deflecting credit towards the players. Sometimes, times call for simply letting the players play, and Austria has never let his ego get in the way of what matters the most.
Currently with nine PBA championships, a 10th PBA title will put Austria in a very exclusive group with the likes of Tim Cone (24 PBA championships), Baby Dalupan (15 PBA titles), and Norman Black (11 PBA championships). A grand slam would also be a great feather to add to his cap and the 64-year old nearly completed one on two occasions. But that’s easier said than done.
While he remains undefeated in the PBA Philippine Cup Finals, import-laden conferences have been tougher nuts to crack for Austria and in turn, the Beermen. The Commissioner’s Cup title, which Austria has won with SMB back in 2017 and 2019, has been elusive since then. Meanwhile, Austria’s only championship in the Governors’ Cup was back in 2015. Then again, the only coach and team that can claim consistency on that end in recent memory would be Cone and San Miguel’s sister team the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings, who aren’t slouches themselves.
Circumstances change when imports are added into the equation. Teams’ playing styles change, a new set of players step up, and the wear and tear from the previous conference are just some of the factors that could affect the eventual outcome. What worked in the All-Filipino Conference more often than not will be what won’t work in the succeeding conferences. How Austria adjusts to this will be something to follow, with the championships that will come out of it only adding to his and San Miguel’s lore.
Leo Austria’s tenure with the San Miguel Beermen has so far been defined by championships and with the looks of things, that’s unlikely to change at least in the near term. Through it all, best believe that his endearing quality of being a man for the people and his players will remain as it has been a key to his and the Beermen’s championship success.