If you don’t know who is coaching in the NBA these days, don’t feel embarrassed, more than two-thirds of the teams in the league have changed their head coaches over the past two seasons. It’s been regular revolving door as only three teams have head coaches with more than five years of tenure. Gregg Popovich has spent 16 seasons in San Antonio and George Karl and Doc Rivers have eight seasons in Denver and Boston respectively. That’s a mighty short list of long-tenured head coaches.
From two seasons ago, nine new head coaches are still making their mark with their respective clubs.
Larry Drew took over from Mike Woodson in Atlanta;
Tom Thibodeau replaced Vinny Del Negro in Chicago;
Del Negro immediately found a new gig with the Clippers replacing Kim Hughes who had stepped in for Mike Dunleavey midseason;
Avery Johnson took over from Lawrence Frank in New Jersey and now heads to Brooklyn;
Frank Vogel took over midseason from Jim O’Brien in Indiana;
Monty Williams started the season in New Orleans replacing Jeff Bower who had replaced Byron Scott midseason; Scott got the rebuilding job in Cleveland replacing Mike Brown;
Doug Collins replaced Eddie Jordan in Philadelphia; and, Tyrone Corbin was the Jazz’s midseason replacement when Hall of Fame head coach Jerry Sloan retired unexpectedly.
As a group, these head coaches have gotten off to a good start. Thibodeau has led the Bulls to two first place overall finishes, winning 75.7 percent of his regular season games. Collins unexpectedly took the 76ers to playoffs both years. Drew and Corbin have kept their respective franchises on track and this will be Johnson’s year to show what he can do with an $81 million payroll.
Last year was more of the same when another nine teams turfed their head coaches in hopes of getting better.
Frank replaced John Kuester in Detroit;
Mark Jackson took over from three-time coach-of-the-year Don Nelson in Golden State;
Kevin McHale got his third head coaching shot replacing 22-year veteran Rick Adelman;
Adelman landed in Minnesota to take over from Kurt Rambis;
Brown returned to replace the legendary Phil Jackson with the Lakers;
Dwane Casey replaced the Raptors first ever Canadian-born head coach Jay Triano;
Woodson replaced Mike D’Antoni midseason in New York in a move that seemed inevitable after he was hired as an assistant coach;
Randy Wittman took over after a 2-15 start from Flip Saunders in Washington; and,
Keith Smart stepped in after seven games to take over from Phil Westphal in Sacramento.
This time the replacements still have something to prove next season. Woodson did finish with an 18-6 record and got the Knicks into the playoffs, but a substantially-changed roster will give him a new challenge this season. Casey turned the Raptors defensive effort around, but it didn’t show up in wins and Adelman looked like he could lead the Timberwolves back to the playoffs, until he lost his starting point guard. As a group, these head coaches have left us wanting more.
It will be a little easier on everyone in October as there are only three new head coaches heading into the start of the 2012-13 NBA campaign.
Mike Dunlap, Charlotte Bobcats
Mike Dunlap takes over for the 69-year-old Paul Silas after a record setting 7-59 season. The Bobcats are young and counting on the development their prospects for any semblance of future success. So, it should come as no surprise that the first words used to describe Dunlap by the Bobcats were teacher and developer of talent. At 55-years-old, Dunlap has 32-years of coaching experience, but nearly all of it is at the college level. His head coaching experience consists of three seasons in Australia, nine seasons at NCAA Division II and five more in Division III. Dunlap does have two seasons under Karl as an assistant coach in Denver. His last two years were spent as an assistant coach with expanded responsibilities at St. John’s University.
Expectations in Charlotte are not high, but Dunlap’s ability to teach will immediately be put to the test.
Jacque Vaughn, Orlando Magic
At just 37 years old, Jacque Vaughn steps into the shoes of veteran head coach Stan Van Gundy and into the first rebuilding phase of the post Dwight Howard era in Orlando.
Vaughn is the prototypical successful journeyman player that had to listen to his head coaches in order to keep a job in the NBA. After 12 seasons in the NBA, it can be assumed that by playing for Rivers, Scott, Frank, Sloan and Popovich, he must have learned something. Just one year after he retired, Vaughn picked up an assistant coaching job with the Spurs and arrives in Orlando with two years of NBA coaching experience. His hiring could be interpreted as acquiring a young coach to grow and develop within a longer term rebuilding project.
Terry Stotts, Portland Trailblazers
Terry Stotts joins Portland following the team’s first postseason absence in four years. Head coach Nate McMillian was let go midseason and replaced by Kaleb Canales as the Trailblazers stumbled to a 28-38 record. The 54-year-old was drafted in 1980 by the Rockets in the second round, but never played in the NBA. His professional career consisted of a decade in Italy, Spain, France and the CBA, but since then, Stott has accumulated 18 years of NBA coaching experience including two separate stints covering four seasons as an NBA head coach. Stotts spent nine seasons as an assistant under Karl in Seattle and Milwaukee. In his most recent stint as an assistant with the Mavericks, Stotts became known for his offensive knowledge, but he brings a wealth of experience from his different stops and has accumulated the knowledge and skills to become a successful head coach. Stotts is someone to watch over the coming seasons.
If you have been able to keep up with all of the coaching changes over the prior two seasons, then this summer’s addition of just three new head coaches shouldn’t provide much of a challenge. Of course with 30 teams in the mix, the revolving head coach’s door never really stops for very long.
By Stephen Brotherston