Click photo to enlarge
In this file photo, the Warriors' Robert Rowell watches the New Jersey Nets play the Golden State Warriors in the first half at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, March 11, 2009. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

He was not a coach or a scout, not an owner or a general manager. Robert Rowell joined the Warriors in 1995 as an assistant controller.

Yet as he ascended to executive level, no employee gained more power behind the scenes -- or, by most accounts, was more eager to use it.

Nobody, including wily office-politics pro Don Nelson, did more over the past decade to influence group morale or shape the general direction of the franchise.

So if new ownership is committed to creating a New Warriors Way, Rowell had to go.

Seven months after the team officially was acquired by CEO Joe Lacob and co-owner Peter Guber, Rowell is out. His departure is another indication -- perhaps the strongest yet -- that Lacob intends to make good on his vow that his Warriors will not be the same old Warriors only with new names atop the organizational chart and fresh coats of paint in the corner offices.

The agreement to "part ways" with Rowell, announced in a news release Tuesday afternoon, rubs out the most persistent and recalcitrant symbol of the dysfunctional Chris Cohan era. Rowell, who over 16 years navigated a path to team president, was Cohan's closest ally. Once Rowell had ingratiated himself with the owner around the turn of the millennium, the Warriors, already inept, seemed to become petty and vindictive.


Advertisement

Oh, Rowell was a marketing star. He found ways to package and sell an often ugly product. Even as the A's moaned about the lack of corporate sponsorship, Rowell was riding that very element to dizzying career heights.

The general consensus, though, was that Rowell, like many in the corporate world, was a divided soul, coexisting as a professional expert and personal sheet of sandpaper. Suffice it to say he was infinitely better at making money than he was winning friends.

There were tales of Rowell ripping employees, including players, with Cohan's approval. There also were stories of Cohan turning on selected individuals, with the support of Rowell. Each enabled the other, generally to the detriment of the franchise.

Battle lines were drawn and alliances formed. Even if Rowell was fabulous at selling a horrid product, this was no way to run a business. The negative energy spreads.

Lacob couldn't have that, and Guber wouldn't have it. As they spent recent weeks collecting star power in the executive suite (adviser Jerry West) and on the bench (coach Mark Jackson) with little or no input from the team president, it became evident Rowell's role was shrinking.

Quite frankly, it had to, for Rowell's power base had expanded from business operations to the overall running of the Warriors.

When basketball boss Chris Mullin four summers ago presented the framework of a deal that would have acquired Kevin Garnett, Rowell stepped in -- with Cohan's support. The deal had at least a pulse, until Rowell pulled the plug.

There was Rowell, sitting with Cohan, scolding guard Monta Ellis -- and docking his salary -- after his memorable scooter accident. There was Rowell, going public with the decision to overrule Mullin regarding the specifics of punishment for Ellis.

There was Rowell, personally negotiating an unwarranted contract extension with forward Stephen Jackson, who demanded a trade before the ink was dry. There he was again, doing the same for Nelson, who spent his final season practically napping through practices.

There was Rowell, undermining Mullin, suffocating his authority and squeezing him out altogether -- then affixing a glum expression when explaining the decision.

At some point, a politically savvy business executive's marketing genius doesn't trump his profoundly chaotic effect on the basketball operation. Cohan embraced Rowell largely because the owner always needed a buffer, someone with whom he could share misery and blame, especially when there was an abundance of both. When Cohan's former business partner, Robin Baggett, was booted from the role, there was Rowell.

Lacob and Guber don't need Rowell. They can keep the advantages he provided without having to tolerate the unrest he created.

"We spent a lot of time evaluating this decision," Lacob said in a prepared statement, "and believe that now is the appropriate time for the new ownership team to put (its) complete stamp on the entire organization."

The first clue that Rowell's future with the Warriors was short came after Lacob and Guber disclosed their plan to close the rift between the franchise and Mullin.

Another clue was the hiring of West.

A decade ago, shortly after I wrote that Cohan's best chance of reviving the Warriors was to lure West, then unemployed, I encountered Rowell at Oracle Arena.

"Jerry West?" he snapped, rolling his eyes. "You can't be serious."

Lacob and Guber are serious. This move is further proof.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.