There have been a total of ten coaches during the quarter century of the two versions of Leopards, four in nine years of the original club and six during the last 16 with the current Big Cats. In any history it would be remiss not to look back at their records.
Billy Mims: 1994 – (November) 1999
Leopards’ first coach joined them from Barry University in Florida and after a decent couple of seasons led the Big Cats to their first piece of silverware when they won the National Cup by beating hosts Sheffield Sharks in 1997 That proved to be the first of three trophies for Leopards in the space of 16 months as they completed back-to-back league titles, only missing out on a treble in the 1997/8 season with a heart-breaking one point loss against Towers in the play-off final.
With the team being decimated by big spending Manchester Giants signing several key players, including the mercurial John White, and the team ended up finishing eighth before exiting the play-offs at the first stage.
1999/2000 started with big plans including a first foray into Europe for the first time with entry into the Korak Cup. The trip to Iceland in their first Euopean tie proved to be a disaster and simmering tensions with the club ownership saw Mims sacked – ironically his final game coming with a big home win against Giants.
Mims returned to haunt Leopards in the 2001 National Cup final as he led Leicester Riders to a two point National Cup final win against the Big Cats at Sheffield Arena and despite qualifying as the eighth seed he completed a double by winning the BBL play-offs that season . His time at Leicester didn’t end well with a dismal run that saw just one in 51 games, and he was fired in the summer of 2003. He returned to the States and has spent the last 15 seasons as coach at Florida Tech.
Bob Donewald jnr (November) 1999 – 2001
Without a doubt Bob was one of the most colourful characters to ever coach in the BBL The son of a US college, Donewald spent a couple of seasons with Leicester Riders before moving across the midlands to Derby Storm where he took them to the BBL Trophy final. His in-your-face attitude normally transferred to his team, with Storm being involved in a brawl at Chester which saw their game against Jets abandoned after just 28 seconds, and the subsequent suspensions robbed him of future Leopards Rico Alderson and Yorick Williams for the final.
He faced a tough test replacing the popular Mims when he took over in November 1999 and his first season proved to be a difficult one as Leopards missed out on the play-offs. The second season was far more entertaining as Leopards finished runners-up in the National Cup – where Donewald lost to arch-enemy (that’s not an exaggeration) Mims, second in the BBL Southern Conference and semi-finalists in the play-offs. The team played some up-tempo “small ball” basketball, with Donewald providing additional entertainment with ejections, emptying bags of balls all over the court, riding onto the Brentwood Centre on a motorbike and squirting an annoying Sky cameraman in the crotch with a water bottle – among other things.
Donewald departed in the summer of 2001 when he landed an assistant coach job at Charlotte (New Orleans) Hornets before moving on to Cleveland Cavaliers where he worked with LeBron James. His subsequent career has taken him all over the world, including the Chinese national team at the London Olympics. He was last heard of in Russia with Lokomotiv Kuban.
Chris Pullem 2001/2
Donewald’s fairly late decision to jump to the NBA – let’s face it, whenever the NBA calls, you go – meant that he’d virtually finished recruiting the team. He also agreed to find the Big Cats a new coach and the man for the job was fellow American Chris Pullem. It was his second spell in the BBL having had a very brief stint with Worthing Bears before quitting because club management wouldn’t allow him to make what he saw as necessary changes. In many ways he faced a similar situation at Leopards – although never got close to walking out – and with a couple of changes his team would have probably finished higher than fourth in the Southern Conference with a 16-16 record .
A one point home loss against Bears (in Brighton by then) where the visitors only took the lead in the final second or splitting the season series with MK Lions (who edged Leopards out on the head-to-head) would have seen Leopards finish third rather than fourth, with a significantly easier play-off game against Edinburgh Rocks, and they were made to pay in the first stage when they went 94-88 against Newcastle Eagles at Coventry. The team did reach the Trophy semi-finals, finishing third in their group with wins against Leicester, Thames Valley and Derby before surprising Sheffield Sharks at Coventry in the last eightThe semi-final (at Coventry, it truly was the centre of the universe) saw Leopards face a Chester side who went on to complete the legendary “Jet Wash” and although they matched up well against the Jets having beaten them at Northgate Arena and only lost at home by a point, they exited the competition with a 92-83.
Pullem took a Leopards Select team to Vegas for the World Basketball Challenge and shocked the world by beating Brazilian champions Vasco da Gama and Magic Johnson’s Select team on their way to third place in the tournament. Pullem had intended to return to Leopards despite the uncertainty over the club’s future but an offer of a five year contract at Bellarmine University in Louisville derailed that plan, and Leopards were left looking for their third coach in as many years.
Mike Taylor 2002/3
The old Leopards’ final and least successful coach in their nine year history joined them after leading German third tier side BV Chemnitz 99 to promotion. Unlike Pullem, he recruited his own side, retaining point guard Rod Brown and big man Dave Attewell, adding British star Yorick Williams but many of his signings disappointed and it reflected in Leopards’ tenth place finish (the BBL reverted to one 11-team division), missing out on the play-offs for the second time in club history. Leopards finished second in a three-team Trophy group, splitting their games with Birmingham Bullets and MK Lions, and those three teams fought it out for the final play-off with Leopards’ 1-3 record against Birmingham seeing them miss out. Following the club’s closure Taylor spent eight years in the German top division with Ulm and has since coached the Polish national team. He spent the last two years at Hamburg Towers (!) where he got them promoted to the top flight before being released recently.