Around the NBA: Frank Vogel - 02/11/11

February 11, 2011
Nick Matkovich

Frank Vogel
Pacers interm coach Frank Vogel talks with rookie Paul George.

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  • A “no strings attached” notion hangs over the underdog. If the team or athlete emerges victorious, you were along for the ride, you called it. Congratulate the temporary. Spray a little Cold Duck and join in the victory celebration. Should these daring do-gooders actually lose, it’s no skin off your back. Who seriously thought they had a chance? So what if their American Dream was temporarily deferred? It was nice while it lasted.

    The underdog story is tantalizing; too rich for the Lifetime Network, too real for Hollywood execs. The appeal of such a tale puts the media in a mouth-frothing frenzy. The news chasers search every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse to throw these stories at the viewing public.

    The “captivating” stories ( “captivating” according to the person who either wrote or produced the piece) bore a devoted fan base to far-stretches of annoyance. In large, I choose to ignore most “heart-warming” tales because of the glitz and glamour heavily-applied to every last one. Such an overabundance of supposed gripping narratives freeze the public out from the truest underdog story in sports: the interim head coach.

    The title itself is detrimental and speaks to the opportune, yet precarious position an interim head coach finds himself. He’s finally become the guy, albeit in the short-term. That’s something he’s wanted for so long, yet the new man in charge has less than a full season to bail water out of a sinking Bismarck of a franchise. Is there any exact job responsibilities he’s supposed to meet in an expedited period of time?

    Frank Vogel has earned the title interim head coach of the Indiana Pacers. As an assistant coach in the NBA for eight seasons, Vogel was recently named head man in Indianapolis, replacing Jim O’Brien. Vogel’s has unearthed the secret to scoring baskets and the Pacers ran their record to 5-1 under his watch. The team has scored over 100 points in each of the games. Granted three of the wins came against Toronto, Cleveland, and New Jersey, but the interim buzz provided by Vogel carried the Pacers through the early stretches of February.

    Players have come out with the typical jargon about Vogel’s energy and communication skills. Calling it jargon is not a slight against Vogel, but a product of making the switch at head coach in any sport mid-season. The “great communicator” is a title worn by all interim head coaches. Reason being, the team stopped listening to the old head coach (in this case O’Brien) a while ago, ultimately being one of the reasons for his dismissal. Ergo, Vogel must be a better communicator than O’Brien because the players stopped listening to O’Brien.

    The energy push is another by-product of the switch. The change in coaches more often than not produces a short-term spike in play from the team. Vogel engineered the Pacers into playoff contention of a top-dominant Eastern Conference. A decent finish and the Pacers could earn a seventh seed.

    But is that enough?

    Most organizations love to fumigate the stench of the old coaching regime by removing all the assistants from the staff after the head coach is dismissed, more often at the end of the season. Current history isn’t on Vogel’s side. In a world of rapid-fires and recycled hires (how Dick Motta and Hubie Brown haven’t been talked about as head coaches recently brings an end to basketball rumors of the early 90‘s) Scott Brooks of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Alvin Gentry of the Phoenix Suns, and Jay Triano of the Raptors are the only current head coaches who were elevated to their current position after having the interim tag with their respective organization.

    Creating further unrest is the instability in the Pacers organization. Team President Larry Bird received a blessing from owner Herb Simon. One minute’s blessing is the next minute’s pink slip. If, in Simon’s mind, Vogel and Bird are a dual commodity then guilt by association is a crime commensurate with termination in some circles. Vogel needs to appeal to Bird’s basketball sensibility. Can he do so by not coming off as a “Bird guy?”

    The results of Vogel’s tenure, though objective, will be viewed and evaluated subjectively. Is Simon looking for a certain number of wins, a consistent style of play, a playoff spot, and certain development from certain players? The evaluation process can be murky and convoluted with other extenuating circumstances.

    So far Vogel has made the most of his moment. The team increased its scoring average in the short-term. The Pacers can easily solidify the seventh or eighth seed in the East. In the interim he’s given the opportunity a good dose of carpe diem. Whether Simon and Bird give Vogel the opportunity to singe the interim label from a title that precedes the words “head coach” remains to be seen.

    Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.

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