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Tuesday October 23rd, 2018 6:54PM

Spain's Lopetegui joins long line of strange coach firings

By The Associated Press
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Spain has made a coaching change just two days before the start of the World Cup in a move that will be heavily scrutinized over the coming weeks.

Was it a surprise move? Absolutely.

But the history of coaching dismissals in soccer and every other sport is littered with strange timing, strange decisions and strange circumstances. Now Julen Lopetegui's case joins them.

Lopetegui was fired as Spain's national team coach on Wednesday after accepting a job to lead Real Madrid next season . He will be replaced by Fernando Hierro for the country's match against Portugal on Friday.

Spanish soccer federation president Luis Rubiales said firing Lopetegui wasn't ideal, but had to happen after Madrid's announcement.

"It's a difficult situation, but we are not the ones who determined the action that had to be taken. The federation has its values and it has to maintain them," Rubiales said. "It may look like a weakness now, but with time this will make us stronger."

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Here's a look at some other high-profile coaches in the United States who have had strange circumstances surround their dismissals:

LANE KIFFIN, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Kiffin's self-described dream job ended with a spectacular thud in 2013 after he was fired during a 3 a.m. meeting at the Trojans' private airport terminal. His dismissal came just hours after the team lost 62-41 to Arizona State. At the time, USC athletic director Pat Haden said "It's never the perfect time to do these things, but I thought it was the right time."

WILLIE RANDOLPH, NEW YORK METS: Randolph's firing in 2008 wasn't necessarily a huge surprise because his job security had been a constant topic, but the timing was definitely strange. General manager Omar Minaya flew to the West Coast when the Mets were on the road and fired Randolph in the middle of the night, a few hours after the team had earned its third win in four games.

DAVID BLATT, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: Blatt led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2015 and had the team sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference standings in 2016 with a 30-11 record when he fired. Wins alone didn't tell the whole story — Blatt and star LeBron James had an uneven relationship. Cleveland elevated Tyronn Lue to head coach and the Cavaliers won the championship later that year.

HUGH FREEZE, MISSISSIPPI REBELS: Freeze led Mississippi to a 39-25 record and a Sugar Bowl victory over five seasons. He looked like he was going to survive a lengthy NCAA investigation into the program, but was fired just before preseason practice in 2017 when school officials found a "pattern of personal misconduct" that started with an investigation into a one-minute call to an escort service.

JOE GIRARDI, FLORIDA MARLINS: Girardi led the Marlins to a 78-84 record during the 2006 season which was quite an accomplishment considering the franchise had a $15 million payroll which was the lowest in baseball that season. His firing wasn't necessarily about things that happened on the field: Girardi and team owner Jeffrey Loria clashed after Girardi asked Loria to stop yelling at umpires from his seat behind home plate. Girardi would eventually be hired by the Yankees and lead them to a World Series title in 2009.

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More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

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