College - Nazareth
Jeff Van Gundy joined the Rockets as the 10th head coach in franchise history on June 11, 2003. In three seasons, Van Gundy has guided the Rockets to a 130-116 record, as his winning percentage of .528 stands as the third highest of any coach in Rockets history. Van Gundy also led Houston to consecutive playoff appearances (2003-04, 2004-05), while posting winning records in nine of his 10 NBA seasons. He boasts a career coaching mark of 378-288, as his winning percentage of .568 ranks eighth among active coaches and 22nd in NBA history. Van Gundy also owns a career 41-40 (.506) record in the postseason.
“Jeff Van Gundy is an all-around excellent coach who believes that a strong defense is key for a team to reach the championship level,” Rockets General Manager Carroll Dawson said. “He has set several franchise records for defense, and I look forward to watching him guide the Rockets in the seasons ahead.”
Over the last three offseasons, Van Gundy worked with Dawson to overhaul Houston’s roster. Despite a successful 2003-2004 campaign, which saw the team advance to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, Van Gundy and Dawson set out to improve the team’s chances for advancing further in the postseason. Despite only Yao Ming, Scott Padgett and Clarence Weatherspoon remaining from the previous year’s playoff roster, Van Gundy guided the 2004-2005 Rockets to the franchise’s best win total since the 1996-97 season with a mark of 51-31 (.622).
Since his arrival, Van Gundy has instilled a defensive mindset that has resulted in the team ranking among the top five in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense in each of the past three seasons. Prior to Van Gundy’s arrival, the Rockets had limited opponents to less than 70 points only twice in 2,920 games in franchise history. The team has accomplished this feat nine times already in the past three campaigns.
Upon his arrival to Houston for the 2003-2004 season, Van Gundy helped the team set franchise single-season records for both scoring defense and field goal percentage defense. The Rockets ranked second in the NBA with a field goal percentage defense of .412 and fifth in the league with a scoring defense of 88.0 points per game. Houston also set a single-game franchise record for defense by holding Utah to 63 points on Jan. 3, 2004. The 2004-2005 Rockets ranked third in the NBA in scoring defense and second in field goal percentage defense, allowing 91.0 points on .423 shooting. Houston again showed their defensive prowess in 2005-2006, ranking fourth in the NBA in scoring defense (91.7) and second in the league in field goal percentage defense (.429).
“I think the only goal that is worthwhile in this league is to pursue a championship,” Van Gundy said. “You may not reach that every year, obviously, but you need to strive each year to be a championship-caliber team with championship-caliber players. That is what we are trying to do here – like they have in the past.”
Prior to joining the Rockets, Van Gundy compiled a 248-172 record in seven seasons as the head coach of the New York Knicks. Van Gundy stands third in Knicks history in coaching wins, trailing only Red Holzman and Joe Lapchick. In Knicks history, Van Gundy’s winning percentage of .590 ranks second behind Pat Riley’s franchise record of .680. Van Gundy became the Knicks head coach on Mar. 8, 1996, when Don Nelson stepped down with 23 games left in the season.
In his first full season as head coach, Van Gundy led the 1996-97 Knicks to a 57-25 record, marking a 10-game improvement over the previous season. New York’s 57 wins matched the third-best total in franchise history and marked the best record ever posted by a Knicks coach in his first full season. Van Gundy stands with Holzman, Rick Pitino and Riley as the only coaches to guide New York to 50 wins in a season. During the 1999-2000 season, Van Gundy registered his second 50-win season with New York. The Knicks finished in second place in the Atlantic Division in four of Van Gundy’s first five seasons. Van Gundy coached the Eastern Conference All-Stars in the 2000 NBA All-Star Game. On Dec. 8, 2001, Van Gundy resigned as head coach of the Knicks. During the 2002-2003 season, he worked with Turner Sports as an analyst on its NBA broadcasts.
New York advanced to the playoffs in each of Van Gundy’s first six seasons, moving past the first round five times. In Knicks history, he trails only Holzman and Lapchick for number of playoff berths. Van Gundy’s most successful playoff run with the Knicks came in 1999, when he became the first coach in NBA history to guide an eighth-seeded team to the NBA Finals. The following season, the Knicks continued their postseason success with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Defense has always been a trademark of Van Gundy-coached teams. In each of his five full seasons, Van Gundy helped the Knicks to rank among the NBA’s top five in fewest points allowed and among the top three in lowest field goal percentage allowed. Over this five-year span, New York ranked second in the NBA in scoring defense, as its 89.0 points per game allowed trailed only Miami’s mark of 88.6 points per game. During this same stretch, the Knicks led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, as opponents connected on just 42.1 percent of their field goal attempts. Under Van Gundy’s guidance, New York held 33 consecutive opponents to under 100 points from Nov. 11, 2000 to Jan. 21, 2001, which stands as the second-longest stretch in the NBA since the shot clock was introduced in the 1954-55 season.
In his first full season, Van Gundy helped the 1996-97 Knicks limit opponents to 92.2 points per game and a league-low .425 shooting. The following season, New York ranked second in the NBA in both scoring defense and field goal percentage defense, as opponents averaged 89.1 points on .428 shooting. The 1998-99 Knicks restricted opponents to 85.4 points per game on .403 shooting, marking the team’s best scoring defense since the introduction of the shot clock. The following year, the Knicks held opponents to 90.7 points per game on .424 shooting. In the 2000-2001 season, New York led the NBA in both scoring defense and field goal percentage defense, as opponents registered 86.1 points per game on .417 shooting.
Van Gundy joined the Knicks as an assistant coach on July 28, 1989, and spent the next six-and-a-half seasons providing support to Stu Jackson, John MacLeod, Riley and Nelson. New York never finished lower than third in the Atlantic Division during this period, winning three division titles. The Knicks qualified for the playoffs in every year of his tenure as an assistant coach, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1993 and the NBA Finals vs. Houston the following year.
Van Gundy’s coaching career began in 1985 at McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester, New York. The following year, he became a graduate assistant under Pitino at Providence, helping the Friars advance to the Final Four. In his second season at Providence, he was promoted to assistant coach under Gordon Chiesa. The next season, Van Gundy became an assistant coach under Bob Wenzel at Rutgers.
Van Gundy hails from a family of basketball coaches. His father, Bill, retired after four decades of coaching, including 15 seasons as the head coach at Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York. His brother, Stan, replaced Riley as the head coach of the Miami Heat in 2003 and led the team to the playoffs in consecutive seasons.
Van Gundy lives with his family in Houston. He graduated from Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, where he played point guard for two seasons. Van Gundy helped Nazareth College to the NCAA Division III Eastern Regional title in 1984 and was honored with induction into the Nazareth College Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.