MANILA, Philippines – Leo Austria notched a new milestone in his coaching career after he guided the San Miguel Beermen to a third consecutive All-Filipino championship on Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Other coaches have won Grand Slams, but Austria's hat-trick is of a different kind. He becomes the first coach to anchor a team to three straight All-Filipino titles.
Talk 'N Text, the only other team to have won three straight All-Filipino titles, were coached by Chot Reyes in their first two runs, and Norman Black in their third.
"This is the highlight of my career," Austria beamed after San Miguel downed Barangay Ginebra, 91-85, in Game 5 to win the best-of-seven Finals series, 4-1.
The Beermen, riding the strength of their tremendous starting five, simply overpowered the Gin Kings in the series. Even their lone loss, a Game 2 overtime defeat, showed how great their team was -- San Miguel dragged Ginebra to overtime despite losing Marcio Lassiter to ejection, and June Mar Fajardo to fouls.
When the dust settled and the balloons and confetti had fallen all upon the Araneta floor, Austria's arm was being held aloft by his veteran forward, Arwind Santos, and he was hugging his all-around point guard, Chris Ross. The man who engineered San Miguel's dramatic turnaround from the "Petronovela" squad to a powerhouse got the recognition he richly deserved.
"There are only two teams na nakakuha ng three-peat," said Austria. "It is hard to win three championships in the All-Filipino, and I'm only the second."
He noted that other coaches – including Ginebra's Tim Cone – have won Grand Slams, but a hat-trick of All-Filipino titles is rarer.
"I think," said Austria, "this is harder."
Austria is very much aware of the criticisms he gets as a coach, specifically for his penchant of playing his starters long minutes. But his first five have proven to be an almost unbeatable unit, and Austria also has a knack of getting vital minutes from his reserves, in any case.
"It takes a lot of sacrifices, discipline, and understanding," Austria said. "It's not easy to develop a team like this, especially 'yung mga starters ko."
"I keep on hearing na these are the best starters in the league," he added. "Maybe not, maybe yes, but kung paguusapan ay ang camaraderie at ang effort nila, then I think they are."
His players are quick to return the compliment to Austria.
"He's really adapting to his players, and that's the sign of a great coach," said Ross, who earned Finals MVP honors for the second All-Filipino Cup. "He tells us, 'You guys control the game.' And that's the sign of a good coach. He doesn't try to control everything we do."
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