Illness sidelines ex-Fire assistant

Former coach pursues team's top coaching job

Resting comfortably in his Bellevue, Wash., home, Tom Newell retains his sense of humor, if not his healthy body.

'My wife's cooking hasn't put me back in the hospital, yet,' Newell says. 'I'm feeling better. But I get on my feet, and I feel like I've had a dozen margaritas and I didn't get to enjoy the music.'

Newell, the former Portland Fire assistant coach, who seeks the team's head position, came down with idiopathic gastroparesis late in the WNBA season. It is a paralysis of the intestine.

Originally, Newell thought it might have been food poisoning in Houston, where he got sick July 30, but doctors discovered Newell had the unusual affliction. He spent six weeks in the hospital after the WNBA season ended Aug. 11. He lost 25 pounds and has been fed intravenously.

'His stomach stopped functioning,' says his wife, Elaine.

'I just started eating solid food about five days ago,' Newell said Sunday. 'I'm a light welterweight now. I'm getting back on a daily diet.'

Convalescing at home, the 55-year-old Newell won't be able to start coaching again for six to eight weeks. He was scheduled to meet with Sandi Bittler, vice president of business operations, on Monday about the Fire opening.

The Fire let go of Linda Hargrove as head coach and general manager, along with Newell and fellow assistant Jessie Kenlaw, after just missing the playoffs last season.

Newell has coached and held clinics all over the world. He was an assistant coach in the NBA and led the Japanese national team. He enjoyed his first experience working with women and wants the Fire job but says Phoenix also has contacted him about its head coaching position.

Newell doesn't know much about idiopathic gastroparesis other than it didn't allow him to keep food down and scared the bejesus out of him.

'And,' he says, 'it's about 70 points on a Scrabble board.'

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