Chris Fleming and Michael Stoschek in happier times. Photo by sportpress

Chris Fleming and Michael Stoschek in happier times. Photo by sportpress

Michael Stoschek, chairman of the supervisory board of Brose, the main sponsor of the Brose Baskets Bamberg, made headlines throughout Europe when he announced the firing of Chris Fleming as head coach of the team. Stoschek addressed the questions of Radio Bamberg managing director Mischa Salzmann and MGO editor in chief Frank Förtsch for a radio interview. Here is a transcript of that interview.

 

Thank you and introductory words about the hangover feeling in Bamberg.

Interviewers: Many fans have been discussing (the firing of Fleming). Can you understand the displeasure, disappointment, speechlessness of the fans?

Stoschek: First of all, I understand the displeasure about the sports development. The most important thing is how the basketball team in Bamberg plays against competition. I think a majority of the fans saw how even last season that our performance dropped drastically. In the end, we did win the championship, but it was rather unexpected after looking at the whole season. And this season, the goals we set and the reality were further apart than ever before. So I can understand the disappointment. We are also disappointed. About the question how we react, there is always differing ideas.

 

Interviewers: There was not quite as much disappointment about being eliminated. Of course it was there. And of course there were disappointed fans who said a new coach should come in. But there were a lot of solidarity campaigns directly thereafter where people said things just didn’t go as well this season as in the previous four years. We had the right recipe but just a poor season.

Stoschek: Just not so good is putting it a bit simple. I cannot remember in the last 10 years where our team played so helpless and you had the feeling that nobody was playing together. You have to see, we have the second highest budget in the league. We increased it 40 percent in the last two years. And we have to strain ourselves that we win against promoted teams by a couple of points. Our sports performance, and not just in individual games but over the whole season, was never so poor compared to the effort that we invest. And you cannot forget one thing, the sports leaders aren’t just responsible for the players at the beginning of the season, we brought in four players during the season with a relative high material expenditures. And after a short time, they didn’t perform either. Somewhere we have to recognize that we have a system error. Of course it’s disappointing for everybody. I understand that. But I think the majority of the people who observe our basketball recognize and not only understand but expect that decisions are made regarding the sports management. But it’s interesting that pan-regionally, practically all media agree that it was necessary and the discussion is only taking place in Bamberg.

 

Interviewers: Where do you see the weaknesses of the departing coach? He was a communicative and motivational man. How do you imagine your ideal coach?

Stoschek: First of all, I would like to say, personally, I am very sorry that Chris Fleming didn’t have any more success. I consider him a highly decent man. Personally, I’m really very sorry that his success came to an end so radically. But you have to accept that. It’s not unusual that after six years of a lot of success, that all of a sudden the energy is gone; that you can’t deal with problems or can’t find the right solution. But I noticed one thing this year, and I didn’t like it at all. That the sports leaders – both the coach and the director of operations – really went after the players after losses and insulted them. That was not good style. I had expected that the sports bosses would take some responsibility for this disaster, or at least say what we’d like to do differently. I really missed that.

 

Interviewers: Of course when the budget increases and there is success and you also want to play at the European level, sports fans want that. And you tried to get that done with a bigger budget. You said correctly that it was by far the most expensive team we’ve ever had and the most disappointing results in the last five years. When you say that you were unsatisfied, when did this dissatisfaction begin and when did it become a stress on the team. That’s a question that comes up. Were the players unable to deal with the pressure that a sponsor like you or other sponsors put on them? Was the pressure from the outside too much? Should there have been a longer leash to have more success? You can see that Artland Dragons tied up the series. They are also a team that can play and also have a coaching staff that is competent and didn’t have success the last four years. Maybe the pressure was too high?

Stoschek: We are playing high level sports. That’s not possible without pressure. Just like us being under pressure as representatives of the Bamberger Basketball GmbH. We have added important pan-regional sponsors with the expectation of investing in the six-time German champions, and then we experience this kind of season. I can only say that I also feel very under pressure with the expectations that we earned. Regarding the question if the coach talked too friendly with his players, we often discussed that. But he is definitely someone who works on a camaraderie basis and tries things with positive reinforcement. The big question is if that always is successful. There are coaches who are very consequent and certainly tougher. By the way, most of the teams that are very successful in Germany have very resolute coaches. This is probably a matter of situation and personality. But there’s not much more for us to say that all-in-all it just isn’t working anymore. And that’s not just this season. But without pressure, you just cannot perform at this level. If you are successful, it’s not there. If you aren’t successful, you can’t avoid it.

 

Interviewers: The discussion recently has left a pretty critical image. Do you think that will influence future coaches or players from coming to Bamberg? And added to that, a number of young German players were rumored to be coming to Bamberg because of the strong coaching of Chris Fleming and the work of Wolfgang Heyder and now they might not come. Do you think that could be the case?

Stoschek: I see in your question that we need to watch out and not over-estimate ourselves too idealistically – also the aforementioned person. As I search for people who can support us, I am experiencing a much more somber evaluation by basketball experts outside of Bamberg, regarding the topic you just addressed. They see the assets but also the weaknesses in Bamberg very clearly and levelheadedly. You can imagine that we will do everything we can to put together a leadership group and of course a team that will build upon the past success. But I can only emphasize that it could not continue how it was at the moment. I think everybody can see that. And that’s why the change that we are going through is also the chance to get back to the top. But we all agree that we could not just continue with the status quo. It wouldn’t work, nobody would have understood that.

 

Interviewers: There was a public discussion in favor of the coach, who is a very favorable personality. And Wolfgang Heyder also spoke out in favor of him and said he would rather continue with him – which was contrary to the supervisory board. Which member of the board said we cannot continue with Wolfgang Heyder in this function, or let’s say, why was it not possible to come together and say: Let’s try to find a new coach together – with Wolfgang Heyder in a leadership position? Was there a point in time where you could turn back and see you went in different directions?

Stoschek: You previously asked the question how long we had been thinking about changing coaches. I can say that it was a long time. It’s been at least since the beginning of the year where we asked if the supervisory board still has confidence in the coach, if Chris Fleming is the right man to lead us into the future. I can only emphasize that nobody can dispute that we had a lot of success. But it’s our responsibility as supervisory board to not look backwards but forwards. The present was not exactly a reason to look optimistically into the future. And we cannot just argue that we had a lot of success in the past and close our eyes to the current situation. I can only say that it’s a normal development in a successful organization that the success eventually ends. Then you have to act. And sometimes the same coach is successful in a different constellation. … I could see how tired and depressed the players were when they took the court – I just had to end that. We have to look forward optimistically. Regarding the stance of Wolfgang Heyder, I was definitely surprised that he expressed a different position than what was agreed upon with the supervisory board. He connected his personal destiny to that of the coach. We have to accept that. So the development is logical. Wolfgang Heyder correctly accepted responsibility for the poor performance of the team.

 

Interviewers: Did Wolfgang Heyder back Chris Fleming for too long?

Stoschek: A sports director should have the necessary distance. Personal friendship should take a backseat to the issues. I say again, we all value Chris Fleming a lot. That’s not the issue. I wish he could have had a different departure than this really unpleasant public discussion and debate. But I admit that I hold a certain responsibility that it came to this debate. Since the beginning of the year, we started having discussions in the supervisory board if Chris Fleming is the man we can trust to lead Bamberg basketball successfully into the future. And of course we started to look around in the market for a successor. Wolfgang Heyder of course was included in that. We wanted to make a decision at the beginning of June but we also had agreed that if we were eliminated in the quarter-finals, then we would immediately decide to make a switch. The mistake that I take responsibility for is that we didn’t go to the public immediately the next day and say that the decision had been made. I wanted to wait until we had found a successor, which is still not the case today. We are talking to a number of persons, but we haven’t made a final decision and we are exactly as far today as we were 11 days ago. But we should have said 11 days ago that the decision has been made. Then we would have spared all of us all the debate that came about. It’s common in sports that you immediately announce that a coach is no longer there even if the other decision isn’t made yet. In football, often it’s the assistant that continues on with the team but it wasn’t necessary for us since the season was already over. We really should have said, here’s a cut, we are going to look for someone else. We didn’t do that. That was my mistake. We wanted to connect negative news with positive news, with the new coach.

 

Interviewers: You said the supervisory board had been discussing since January that you wanted a new coach. Had that reached the coach or the players? That could influence the current coach. If I know that they are already looking for my successor, then I may cramp up.

Stoschek: Of course we didn’t tell the team. Just the opposite. I cannot say how much Wolfgang Heyder told the team.

 

Interviewers: You said that you do not have a new coach. What format must the new coach have? What kind of coach would you like and where do you expect to find him?

Stoschek: Both the coach and the team must be put together according to the goals that we have. We will not be playing next season in the Euroleague. That’s certain. We will not receive a wild card. We will be playing in the Eurocup and I don’t see that as decisive. I don’t care if it’s fourth place or 18th, we are not competitive in Germany. We have to see that very soberly. We are playing against teams with a quarter of our budget and we are happy if we can win by a few points at the end. Our focus is once again to play for the title in the Beko BBL. And we will line up the coach and the players accordingly. For those who have big goals and dreams of Europe, they don’t recognize reality.

 

Interviewers: Will Mr. Steiner be included in the decision? Will the Bayreuth basketball official help make the decision and prepare it?

Stoschek: First of all, I would like to say that Carl Steiner introduced me to basketball. He took me to my first game in Bayreuth in the Oberfrankenhalle. I had never seen a basketball game before. I have to thank him for my excitement for the sport, and Bamberg profited from that. I am happy that I don’t just have a personal friend, but also someone with by far the most expertise in the supervisory board both about tactics and players and coaches. So we are very, very happy that he is supporting us in our decision. And he does that with an incredible energy. It’s extraordinary what we have been putting in as voluntary supervisory board members. And it’s frustrating to me what is being said about us in the public. He helps us in many ways. There is no problem that Bayreuth is also asking him for advice. Everyone knows in Bayreuth that we pretty much play at a different level. Our budget is about five times larger, we have totally different ambitions so I don’t see the slightest conflict of interests for Mr. Steiner between Bamberg and Bayreuth. He knows that, Bayreuth knows that, we know that. We will not talk about a problem that does not even exist.

 

Interviewers: There was talk that it’s like Greuther Fürth helping FC Nürnberg decide on a new coach.

Stoschek: I can only say that we are happy to have someone in the supervisory board that is so competent and can talk to everyone in the search for a new coach and a successor for Wolfgang Heyder, that we can use his network so that we can bring in the leadership figures that Bamberg needs. Without a coach and with Wolfgang Heyder stepping down, we need a new team. We are facing a huge responsibility of making correct decisions. And we should be thankful for anyone who helps us and has expertise. That’s the only thing that should interest us.

 

Interviewers: Is there a timeline at all, when you want either of the decisions to be made?

Stoschek: The only advantage of being eliminated early from the playoffs is that we have a little more time than otherwise to regulate these decisions. We’re not under pressure time-wise. The quality of the decision is more important than the timeframe, that’s clear. We have a series of candidates. There are people who have inquired by us and people we have asked. The process has started to find a new leadership and a new team.

 

Interviewers: We have heard a number of names including Dirk Bauermann as new sports director. Can you say anything about that?

Stoschek: No, I can only say that I have seen in media that we are negotiating with him. That is not the case. He lives nearby. He offered to help us in any way he could. I think that’s to be acknowledged. But now that we have a number of contacts, we have to see if it makes sense to bring him into the matters. Some time you reach a point where too many cooks spoil the broth. We have to be careful about that, but I am thankful to him that he has offered his help. But I cannot say if it’s realistic that it could lead to more.

 

Interviewers: Are there players who have already agreed to join the team?

Stoschek: The selection of players depends on who the coach is next season. We don’t want to move too quickly. There are some players with longer contracts and with the others, we still have to make a decision how the team will be put together. But that depends certainly on the new coach.

 

Interviewers: I would like to talk about the fan reaction to the news. … There’s been a mini shit storm. You ripped our hearts out. Freak City will never be the same, now it’s a factory team. What do you think about this discussion and can you understand it?

Stoschek: This discussion confused me and I cannot understand it. The main thing that aggravates me is occasionally to read that we are investing a lot of money and making decisions that are wrong or inhumane. But in general, we have never put the focus on our material support. But I just wish we had more respect for the personal dedication from me and my colleagues in the supervisory board. Rolf Beyer is purchasing manager in our factory, is taking the next step up the career ladder with Brose. He’s spending all of his free time, just like me, solely with basketball issues. All these people are very stressed because their commitment and dedication in public is not recognized. They are insulted for making the wrong decisions or no decisions. We took the responsibility for this basketball team, we wanted to do it and we did it consciously. And we accept this responsibility. But it does hurt when individual persons or those connected to basketball are discredited for taking these opinion-forming functions. The main interest that connects all of us – in the supervisory board with the fans and everyone else – is to do the best we can for basketball in Bamberg. And it’s clear that not everybody will be entirely satisfied with personnel decisions. That’s part of the responsibility. To not run away and act in a populist manner. That’s not how I see responsibility. Let’s just see what the majority thinks and do exactly that in the most politically correct way. I read an interesting article on the internet last night and the writer wrote, when 80 people stand in front of the arena and demonstrate for Fleming that doesn’t speak for a majority. We have 6,700 fans that come to the games and there are probably more fans in Bamberg than just those who come to the arena. Then it’s a sign that we’re going too far when we talk about the general opinion. I don’t think that we’re talking about the general public when individual persons – either open or anonymously – speak their mind in social media.

 

Interviewers: Isn’t that what you want, that the city is behind the team? That there may be differences but that you can talk about things.

Stoschek: Certainly, but when you have more than one opinion within the organization and the sports director goes against the supervisory board, then I see a bigger problem.

 

Interviewers: Was there no way to rectify the situation? Could you not have met face-to-face with him?

Stoschek: You probably saw that it couldn’t be changed. So you could understand him stepping down. I see that in regards to the coaching decision but also as a consequence for the performance on the court.

 

Interviewers: How much is (Heyder) involved in finding a new coach? The press release said he will assist in the restructuring, the new start.

Stoschek: I would hope that he is actively doing that. It’s his job. I hope he puts this debate behind him, the decision has been made. You can only look forward now. As long as he is in this role, he should be doing everything he can to put together a good coach and a good team. He needs to confirm all of this public praise at this stage. That’s what I expect, that we show we can deal with this. We will have a major change in the team. The sports director must deal with that. It’s unclear which players we might lose. But now we need this expertise, and that’s the decisive point for me. We need to stop making this an emotional issue. We have to talk about things objectively. I haven’t seen any objective discussion in the public in the last two years. It’s not the supervisory board’s fault that we are facing a major overhaul with the players. We agreed to the in-season player acquisitions, you saw how excellent that was. Now we need facts. I’m pleased that Wolfgang Heyder is still on board and is willing to solve these problems as sports director. But he has to deliver now.

 

Interviewers: It wasn’t just fans who spoke up but also important players who spoke out in favor of Fleming. Casey Jacobsen was pretty emotional and said he was the best coach he had ever had. Anton Gavel and others also spoke positively. How much did that irk you and the rest of the supervisory board – that recognized experts said that or is the opinion of the players not relevant? They didn’t have anything to lose – Jacobsen or Gavel.

Stoschek: We should remain levelheaded. These kinds of farewells are highly emotional events where you always say nice and lovely things. You can’t see that as an objective appeal, what they say to celebrating fans with tears in their eyes. We really need to remain sober. Especially in regards to Anton Gavel, I know of quite different statements from him. Let’s stay grounded here. That was a highly emotional event for the two departing players (Jacobsen and John Goldsberry), to whom we are very thankful for their excellent performance and great success. But I felt that the second part of the event was for the departure of Chris Fleming and Wolfgang Heyder. That was highly emotional but I don’t think we should overestimate what is said in such a euphoric situation. Talking about the performance of the players … we had players who played against us and were great and then when they were here did nothing. Julius Jenkins is one and then Philipp Neumann, both are important players with Oldenburg. They couldn’t do anything here. Jordan leaves Bonn and everyone says he’s the best and then comes here and plays one good game and that’s it. I slowly have recognized that we are not able to get players to produce here and they play better elsewhere. These are all facts that we have to take into account. Also I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we were successful with players like Tucker, Roberts and Suput. And it’s not something we should overestimate. We have to see how we can deal with normal players. I see that players who perform well elsewhere just seem to decline in Bamberg. These are all facts that we have to view levelheadedly and stop judging the management team with emotions and sentiment.

 

Interviewers: Talking about the new team, can you say anything about Anton Gavel? People are saying he’s looking for a house in the Bamberg region. That made us a bit optimistic. He would only grin when asked about that. Can you say anything? Like we want to build around him. He’s been Mr. Brose Baskets in the recent years.

Stoschek: We can hope a little but we should remain levelheaded. Anton Gavel is also highly de-motivated by how this season went. I talked to him during this celebration for Jacobsen and Goldsberry. He saw how he was often the only one from this uncoordinated and de-motivated group that really showed heart and passion. And that is of course frustrating. And the fact that he couldn’t do it alone is probably the reason he didn’t seem as much of a fighter at the end. That will not help us keep him here in Bamberg. On the other hand, I did tell him that if he stays with us that we would like him to actively help us form a team around him and other things like that. But he told me that everything is still too fresh, he was still playing games in his mind after losing in the quarter-finals. He hadn’t really processed that it was over already. That’s why he hasn’t dealt with where it goes from here. We kind of hope it might entice him to play a leading role in building up a team. We offered that but I know that there are a lot of other aspects for him which we need to respect.

 

Interviewers: You mentioned how you feel that you’re not recognized enough for your effort. Is there a point where you would say, now I don’t want to do this anymore?

Stoschek: The problem is we are not putting together a product that Brose cannot deliver. You buy a car and there are either Brose products in there or not. So we don’t have any direct access to the consumers. Our basketball sponsoring serves as a chance to present ourselves as a sports-minded, successful company, purely to care for our image. If all of these basketball issues lead to the Brose brand not being supported or even the brand being damaged, as I read in editorials and see in the public, then it’s just the opposite of what we had imagined. I see that as a real problem. And I must say openly that I am not alone in the supervisory board. I need to convince a majority that this investment is correct for Brose. And that will not be easier when people are speaking out against the main sponsor – even though it’s unjustified. I see that as a problem.

 

Interviewers: What happens if people boo or jeer with whistles when you’re introduced at the arena or it’s only half-filled because the season ticket holders say, no, this is not our Freak City any more. It’s not our basketball how we want it.

Stoschek: I really cannot imagine that at all because all of the work that the supervisory board did we decided as a group – and often unanimously. So I cannot imagine this polarization against my persona. It wouldn’t be fair. There are people on board who know sports, there are people like Mr. (president Norbert ) Sieben who has a decades-long connection to basketball. You can expect us to make decisions that take real responsibility. If that leads to the public not recognizing that then we will certainly take some sort of action. What that will look like, I don’t know. When I read that we don’t want a “factory team” then that hits me a number of ways. A, I don’t know if Alba Berlin or Bayer Leverkusen feel like a “factory team”. And I can’t really see what’s so negative about that. First off, it’s not a factory team, our employees from the Brose organization are not playing. But there seems to be a position against our company. And that’s not understandable when you look at how some of our employees volunteer their time for basketball, put together the arena or work to get more sponsors. That’s all we can do. If that’s not recognized, we can’t hold our own against bluntness and ignorance and refusal. I just hope that the majority of the people will not let themselves be influenced by a few individuals. Hopefully we will see soon how the majority thinks. The decision wasn’t easy. The mistake is that we didn’t announce the decision immediately. But it wasn’t easy. We discussed the pros and cons and really tried to find a solution that’s acceptable for everyone. And it has to be a full decision. It can’t be half a decision or three-quarters. Complete yes or complete no. But we will not be put under pressure by the public. If the public or the fans decide who the coach is, then the fans and public decide who plays too. I won’t go for that. A sports organization must accept responsibility as it would in other areas as well. We will not be manipulated from the outside or from people who think they speak for others and certainly do not have the majority behind them.

 

Interviewers: The fans would like to know when the supervisory board will answer their questions.

Stoschek: I plan on doing that, just like this talk. I want people to understand the decision that we made. I repeat, it wasn’t easy for us. But we stand behind our decision. Just like this talk, I am willing to talk to the fans. There was also this debate if the smaller sponsors were treated wrongly because we came in on a bigger scale. That was a completely senseless debate which was pushed by people who were more destructive to basketball to make themselves more known, for whatever reason. That showed that everyone can speak their mind in an open discussion and say how they as a smaller sponsor felt they were being disadvantaged. You remember how it ended, there was nothing to it and issue was over. So I would like to address the fans’ questions, and we are thinking about when and how we can best do that. I have nothing to hide. I will not let myself be put under pressure. I am willing to answer every objective question with an objective answer. If that would serve to resolve any kind of ambiguities, then I would like to do that.

 

Interviewers: What’s your desire for the first game of next season?

Stoschek: You can’t expect any miracles. … You talked about pressure. Now there is enormous pressure that it starts well. You talk about the first game, maybe others look at the first quarter. If everything goes well, then god has helped us. But you can’t determine it like that. Putting together a totally new team requires a certain start-up stage. You also have to give a new coach a chance. You have to say, we are at a low point. Not even a promoted team respected us. We reached an absolute low point in the BBL. And I want to look at the new season from that standpoint. We have to be able to take a step forward. But we will not immediately become German champions. One thing we also have to say, the bar is now pretty high. The level in the Bundesliga increased dramatically, I welcome that. But it also showed during the season where we are if the whole level goes up. It will not be easier. And bringing Bamberg back to the top will only work if everybody is on board together, all sponsors, all fans. You certainly heard in addition to Munich and Berlin that Hamburg is also coming into the sport. Pascal Roller is playing a leading role there. So we have three big cities – Munich, Berlin and Hamburg – and small Bamberg next to them. And with all the infrastructure of media, football and sponsor contacts in Hamburg and Munich they have an unbelievably strong position. It’s only getting tougher in Bamberg to fulfill the expectations that we have. But that’s exactly the reason to not look backwards and pat yourself on the back and say how good we were. We have to remain levelheaded. That doesn’t help us at all. The past success is good and all, but opening your eyes and seeing reality is not very strong here at the moment. And it will cost an unbelievable amount of energy to push forward with all the competition out there. I am personally ready and my company is economically ready to work on it but only if we have the full acceptance and not have to deal with these kinds of issues time and time again. I want to spare us that and spare Bamberg basketball that. That hurts everything. I read that we are breaking up Bamberg basketball, that’s a nasty claim, that hurts. I hope we find an end and can start a new beginning.

 

Interviewers: What’s with the team behind Chris Fleming? Do you want to keep the assistants and other staff or look for new people?

Stoschek: That’s not our decision. Usually the head coach takes his assistants with him. But that’s not our decision. I hope that Chris finds a good job soon. The assistants have a clause in their contract that they can leave if Chris is no longer coach. I don’t know if they will do that, but it’s also not in our hands, but rather the new coach. Every change has risk so we want minimize the risk as much as possible.

 

Interviewers: One last question about Chris Fleming. Was it difficult to communicate the decision?

Stoschek: Communicating it is not difficult because it’s just an announcement of a decision. It’s no question that the decision wasn’t easy, especially since I really value Chris Fleming personally. He recently visited me at home. We talked very openly and fairly. I hope he finds a position soon that satisfies him. … I understand the public campaigns in his favor because personally he’s a very nice individual. His supporters will have to understand that objectively it just didn’t work any longer. They have to take away some of the emotion and just objectively recognize that not just individual games but even the last two seasons brought doubts and we reacted to those doubts. And we hope that everybody accepts that and that it was the right decision.

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