Donald Trump, a Mets minority owner?
"I couldn't picture that," Walt Michaels said Thursday, and he should know. As the coach of Trump's New Jersey Generals of the short-lived United States Football League, Michaels spent two years during the mid-1980s working for the real estate magnate in his only dalliance into professional sports.
According to Michaels, Trump was everything you would expect of him as a team owner: demanding, energetic and always looking to do things his way. The Trump Way.
Which was why Michaels, 81, enjoyed a nice chuckle recently when he saw reports of Trump's interest in the Mets, whose owners are looking to sell 25 percent of the team. But if Trump ever did become part of the Mets' ownership group, Michaels couldn't envision it working out without Trump having full control.
"As much as I know of Donald from the little time I was with him, he would do everything in his power to try to win," Michaels said from his Pennsylvania home. "Now being that he was the owner, he also wanted everything done his way. And you can't blame him for wanting to do that. But I'd say to him, 'What if I went in your office and said I want to build this new building?' He'd say, 'That's fine, but what do you know about it?'
"The point I'm making is that if you want to do something, it's not the fact that you want to do something so badly, it's that you also need to know something about it . . . and you have to have people with the knowledge that you trust."
Michaels was the Jets' defensive coordinator when they won Super Bowl III and their head coach for six seasons (1977-82). He said he enjoyed his two years with Trump, mostly because he was different from any other owner he ever worked for. Michaels said he knew from the start of their first meeting that he was signing up for a unique experience.
Before Michaels was brought to Trump's office for his interview, he said he was shown a video about Trump's business in a waiting room. "I thought to myself, 'This is different,' " Michaels said. But he said he left with the impression Trump wanted nothing more than to win, and Michaels was sold.
The Generals went 25-13 in Michaels' two seasons, making the playoffs both years. But Trump was Steinbrenner-like in his desire to win.
"Donald not only wanted to win regularly, but he also wanted a championship every year," Michaels said. "And you know as well as I know that's pretty tough."
Had the league not disbanded in 1986 after Michaels' second season, the Generals were set to be merged with another franchise; reports said Trump wasn't going to bring Michaels along. Michaels said he never heard Trump tell him, "You're fired," though he admits to getting a kick out of seeing his former boss utter the phrase on television every so often.
And now he's interested in seeing whether anything comes of Trump's interest in the Mets. "Even if he's a minority owner," Michaels said, "he's still going to say what he thinks."