Mike Fratello

Mike Fratello was Doc Rivers’ first head coach in the NBA. He spent 18 seasons manning the sidelines for Atlanta, Cleveland and Memphis, including coaching Rivers with the Hawks for the first seven years of Rivers’ career. Rivers has often credited Fratello, along with Pat Riley, for planting the initial seed that he should one day go into coaching.

On Dec. 16, before the Clippers took on the Brooklyn Nets, Fratello, who is now a color analyst for the YES Network as well as national TV games for TNT, spoke to Eric Patten of about Rivers and the Clippers.

Here is the full transcript of the interview:

Eric Patten, The first thing I have to ask you about is Doc. You were obviously his coach in Atlanta. He’s credited you for spurring his interest in coaching initially. What do you remember saying to him originally about being a coach and why did you think he could be a coach when you were coaching him?

Mike Fratello: “Doc was one of the guys that you knew studied the opponent. He took our scouting reports and evaluated what was on them. Most of the time he critiqued them and decided what was right or what was not right on the scouting reports. I really knew he was going to be a coach when he’d tell me what he was going to run out on the court all the time. It didn’t matter what we were calling.

“He was just one of those serious-minded players who it meant a lot to him, winning and losing. You have a feel for certain guys. They approach the game differently than other players do. He was one of those guys that you knew he was serious-minded. He was a guy willing to put time in studying video, studying the scouting reports. Studying your opponents the way he did as a player, you knew inevitably it was going to happen, if he wanted to be a coach.”

EP: Where does a former player sort of decide that he wants to be a coach? Is it just a natural thing or does something need to push him in that direction when he’s done playing?

MF: “It’s probably different for everyone. I’m sure there are some from the beginning of their careers when they come into the league, they say, ‘You know what? When I’m done, when my playing days are over, I’d like to stay in the game somehow from the coaching perspective.’ For others, the light may not go on until they’re half way through with their career. Or others as they approach the end of their career, they may say, ‘I have one or two more years left in the league. What do I want to do?’ They start looking around and say, ‘I’m going to miss this and I want to stay involved in it and I think I can pass on some of what I’ve learned to young players.’ And they like the teaching aspect of it. They don’t mind the grind, the hours that it takes to be a part of a coaching staff, so that’s probably different for different individuals.”

EP: What kind of a job does Doc have coming into this position with the Clippers, given the talent that they have and trying to mold them into the kind of championship mindset that he had in Boston?

MF: “Probably, and I’m guessing, the biggest thing Doc will try and do is instill in them is the long-range process of the championship mentality. It’s not just a one season thing. He understood when he took over this job that he was going to inherit a talented team, but now can you instill the mindset and the work ethic that lasts long range? Where it’s five, six, seven, eight-year run. Can you replace certain pieces that you might feel need to be improved in order to make as deep of a roster as you possibly can to hold up through injuries that take place. That I think is what Doc would look at.

“He approaches things a little bit differently than a guy just coming in and they’re saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got to turn this thing around.’ They had a great season last year. Now when Doc comes in, it’s not only covering things from wins and losses but it’s covering the locker room and how it’s decorated and the practice facility and staffing. It’s A to Z that he’s looking at and putting his hand in and he’s involved in actively, trying to make this a long-range situation for them.”

EP: It seems like they’ve already started putting some of those pieces together with guys like J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. How do you think that some of the newer pieces fit as compared to the team that they had last year?

MF: “We’ll have to let this thing play out a little bit before we know that, unfortunately. Injuries change a lot of things that happen during the season. That’s why you try to have a deep roster. But you have to give them time to understand what their new coach is expecting of them and let things work out together. Then, you start judging them after they get through the first, whatever, 15 games or 20 games. Then, you start watching for the consistency on both ends of the floor and then feeling how they want play with each other. Then, you judge them ultimately at the end of the year. Where are they and what do they do in the Playoffs.”