Former NBA Head Coach Helps D-League Coaches Reach Their Potential

Terry Stotts: Consulting With The D-League Coaches

by Matthew Brennan,

Terry Stotts led the Milwaukee Bucks to the playoffs as head coach during the 2005-06 season.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images/NBAE

The D-League is known as a place where players develop their game in order to reach the NBA, but the league also offers the same opportunity for its coaches who are looking to move up to NBA staffs. At the beginning of this season 15 coaches throughout the NBA had D-League coaching experience, including Charlotte's Sam Vincent, who became the first D-League coach to become an NBA head coach. In order to help the D-League's coaches improve their skills, the D-League has hired former Bucks and Hawks head coach Terry Stotts to serve as the D-League Coaches' Consultant. At last week's D-League Showcase in Boise, Stotts was on hand as he settled into his new role and got to know the coaches he will be working with throughout the season.

"I was contacted by the NBA, Stu Jackson and Chris Alpert talked to me about it, and its an opportunity for me to help some of the coaches", said Stotts. "There are a lot of good coaches in the D-League, including some experienced coaches that frankly, don't need a lot of consulting. In my experiences when I was working with George Karl, he would bring in other coaches to observe practices or training camps and it's just good to get another set of eyes looking at the team and make some suggestions. With the younger coaches I am able to help them in their development as coach, and with the older coaches, when you are a head coach sometimes you will take suggestions from anywhere you can get them."

With 14 different coaches (plus assistants) to work with, Stotts will be increasing his frequent flier miles this season as he travels to different D-League cities to observes games and practices. At the Showcase, he would speak to both head coaches after every game to discuss what had occured and offer his advice. The Showcase was also a valuable tool for Stotts to familiarize himself with the league's teams and players.

"The most productive thing for me here in Boise is to get to know all the coaches, all the teams, and take the time to familiarize themselves," said Stotts as he observed one of the games at Qwest Arena. "I spent three days in Sioux Falls, three days in Colorado, and I was able to spend quality time with those coaches and those teams. I thought that was the most beneficial thing I have done so far, so over the rest of the season I will be spending a few days in Albuquerque, a week in Southern California, and so on."

Stotts detailed exactly how he interacts with the coaches immediately after a game, and how it can change depending on a coach's level of experience. He is also not hesitant to offer a suggestion or two that he has learned from his coaching experience in the NBA and the CBA.

"When I speak to a coach after the game, it depends on the coach of that team and what they are looking at," said Stotts. "Some of the younger coaches, I talk about execution and game management. When I was in Sioux Falls, I spent time watching shootarounds, practices, and film sessions, and times arise where I can act as another assistant coach and bounce ideas off them. I can critique them on how they can do something better, offer suggestions for drills, there is a wide variety of things that can be said to the coaches throughout this project."

One of the challenges that Stotts faces is the diversity of the D-League's coaches. Some are longtime veterans of minor league basketball, while others are college coaches adjusting to the professional game or young coaches dealing with the pressures and responsibility of being a head coach for the first time. As a result Stotts takes a unique approach to each coach to help them in the way that he thinks is best. Stotts is also taking the time to work with each team's assistant coach, as being an assistant requires its own skills that need to be developed that can differ from being a head coach.

"It's very diverse, you have some young coaches in the league like Nate Tibbetts in Sioux Falls, and then you have some longtime college coaches like Jeff Ruland and Bob Hoffman and Quin Snyder who are relatively new to the professional game," added Stotts. "Then you have guys like Dan Panaggio who have coached in the minor leagues for a long time. There is just a wide variety of coaches with different backgrounds, and my approach to each one of them is different according to their background and how I think I can best help them. You also have assistant coaches like Jaren Jackson or Roy Rogers who have aspirations to become head coaches in the D-League or NBA assistants, and it's also a great experience helping them be good assistants, because that is also a skill that needs to be cultivated."

Stotts knows from his experience that the minor leagues serve as a premier breeding ground for coaches aiming to eventuall make the move to an NBA staff. His coaching career began in the CBA in 1990, where he serves as an assistant to current Nuggets coach George Karl with the Albany Patroons. After a successful tenure with the Patroons, Karl and Stotts made the transition to the NBA with the Seattle Supersonics, a move that is the goal for the coaches that Stotts is working with in the D-League today. As the D-League has established itself as the premier minor league in basketball, Stotts expects many more D-League coaches to follow in the footsteps of D-League to NBA coaches such as Sam Vincent and the Grizzlies' Dave Joerger.

"No question, the minor leagues in any sport are a proving ground and a place where people can improve their craft," says Stotts. "I don't think that there is any question, I have my background as player and coach in the CBA, and you see a lot of coaches in the NBA who are similiar. I think you are going to see the same thing in the D-League for years to come. It's a time-tested formula and there is no subsitute for experience, and the experience that coaches and players are getting in the D-League is going to help their careers."