Another NBA coach fired...
There are a few glaring problems with the modern NBA which are now very common throughout the league. The officials are extremely inconsistent, the arenas throughout the league are looking emptier, and teams will fire their coaches after minor losing slumps.
The New Orleans Hornets have continued a very impractical practice of firing their coach, Byron Scott, at the first sign of trouble. Byron Scott, a coach who took the Hornets, with the assistance of Chris Paul, from a perennial loser into a competitor in a very difficult Western Conference.
Byron Scott coached his team to back-to-back winning seasons. He is also the winner of the 2007-08 NBA Coach of the Year award. So what great fault led to him being let go by the New Orleans Hornets?
He started the year 3-6! Is it a great start, no; however, the Hornets are a mere three games under .500. It does appear as if the Hornets might have been a little hasty pulling the trigger on letting go of their coach.
Was there a single person shocked that the Hornets fired Scott? Any person who follows the NBA should have greeted the news of Scott’s firing with the same shoulder shrug reserved for finding out there are surprise twists at the end of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies. The endings should be surprising, but completely expected.
Scott’s firing is another sign of how difficult it is to have success in the NBA—both as a NBA head coach, and as a successful NBA franchise.
The NBA Coach of the Year award is suppose to given to the coach who did the best job with his team over the course of the NBA season. The award really has become nothing more than an oversized paper weight. It really should be called “The Coach in the Right Place at the Right Time Award.” If it really was given to the best coach each year Phil Jackson would probably just schedule a yearly appointment to pick up the trophy.
To see the sorry state of coaching in the NBA just look at the history of past Coach of the Year winners. A person has to go back to 2002-03 to find a Coach of the Year winner who both is still employed by the team he won the award with, and a coach who really deserved the award.
- 2008-09 Mike Brown, Cleveland Cavaliers (Still with team) – That Mike Brown won a Coach of the Year award is laughable; however, it is embracing the league didn’t take it away from him after he was completely outcoached in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Mike Brown might be the worst head coach currently in the league, and that is really saying something.
- 2007-08 Byron Scott, New Orleans Hornets (Fired)—Scott is not just a good coach, he is a great coach.
- 2006-07 Sam Mitchell, Toronto Raptors (Fired)—He is another one year wonder with a mediocre Raptor team. Team let him go at the first sign of trouble.
- 2005-06 Avery Johnson, Dallas Mavericks (Fired)—He took a young team filled with potential and underachieved.
- 2004-05 Mike D’Antoni, Phoenix Suns (Resigned)—He installed his eight second offense with Steve Nash, or as it is better known, an absolutely brilliant coaching move. His reward is an ugly dispute with the Suns, and the opportunity to coach the New York Knicks(Ouch!).
- 2003-04 Hubie Brown, Memphis Grizzlies (Retired)—Sat on the bench and basically didn’t trade Pau Gasol to the Lakers for pennies on the dollar.
- 2002-03 Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs (Still with team)—Popovich is a NBA coaching legend.
What this shows us is it is tough for NBA coaches to keep their jobs. There are very few franchises that support their coach when things aren’t going well. Furthermore, the data also shows there is a lack of good coaching in the NBA.
Teams will fire their coaches in hopes that change brings success to their franchise. There are many problems with this philosophy. Especially for teams who win championships. The 2005-06 Miami Heat are the only team in the last twenty years that fired changed coaches during the season and won a championship (although really Pat Riley was rumored to be forcing out Stan Van Gundy long before the 2005-06 season started).
Championship teams have one major thing in common, consistency. These teams will find a head coach who has a coaching philosophy. The successful championship teams, with a few exceptions, will bring in players to match the coach and not coaches to match the players. Successful franchises will ride out bad seasons with good coaches.
The loyalty franchises give to their coaches help coaches to win games.
The Utah Jazz has a Hall of Fame coach in Jerry Sloan. The Jazz are off to a similar start as the Hornets this season. What is the difference between the Hornets and the Jazz? When things have gotten rough, or when the team is under performing, the ownership has always come out in support of Sloan. This support sends a clear message to the players—either play Sloan’s style of basketball or get out of town!
The Jazz don’t have to deal with players dogging it, or calling for a change in coaching, or any of the other drama which circles other teams. If the player doesn’t like it in Utah, he won’t play in Utah. Sloan will either bench him, which kills a player’s market value, or the Jazz will simply move the player.
How has Sloan repaid the trust the Jazz gave him? Jerry Sloan is in his 22nd season as head coach of the Utah Jazz. During that time he has only a single losing season, and he has only missed the playoffs three times. Sloan is a proven commodity of success in the NBA.
NBA coaches crave this type of support from their franchise.
The biggest problem NBA coaches face is how they motivate their players. If the coach doesn’t have the support of the front office in their franchise, then there really is nothing they can do to motivate their players. When things get rough during the season, and the coach has to make changes in order for the team to succeed, coaches without front office support cannot dictate to players. In these situations, players have all the power over the coach.
Teams with weak front offices try to appease the players; this completely undermines coaches. Players can call for the coaches job, play outside the coaches system, or simply fake an injury until a change in coaching.
Franchises that make decisions to please players soon find out the players, who call for coaches jobs, will never be happy. These franchises will suffer in mediocrity, wondering what changes they need to make in order to succeed. What these teams need is a good coach, but the problem is elite level coaches will not go and coach for unstable franchises.
Elite level coaches know they need stability for success. Franchises that prove they will be loyal to a coach for the long haul will be rewarded when they are looking for a coach in the future. Loyal franchises breed stability and success.
NBA coaches are like ship captains of the hardwood. Firing a coach is nothing short of mutiny! There are times when it makes sense to remove a poor captain in the Navy, and there are times to get rid of a terrible coach (ahem, Mike Brown).
Yet, if you are going to remove the captain mid-voyage you better be sure you are doing the right thing. You hire a captain trusting they have the abilities to sail you safely through rough water, and stormy weather. Most NBA teams fire their coaches at the first signs of trouble; which is like firing a ship’s captain at the first signs of a storm on the horizon.
If a team doesn’t trust a coach to get them through the bad times, then obviously the front office did a very poor job in hiring. You hire a coach, like a seas captain, not to take care of things when things are going well, but to grind through the trials of adversity.
A franchise will be more successful to trust and support their coach, and let them grind through the adversity of the season. Moving a disgruntled player will lead to more success than continually firing coaches who suffer minor setbacks.
If the Coach of the Year award teaches anything it is the NBA’s current perception of coaching excellence is wrong. The Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs should be models of how to hire, and maintain coaches in the NBA. Stability is the key to long term success.