Denton: Consider the Following About Vaughn

By John Denton
August 1, 2012

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ORLANDO For the Orlando Magic fans that are concerned that Jacque Vaughn’s lack of head coaching experience will hamper his ability to be successful, consider the following:

  • Of the 30 coaches currently in the NBA, 12 of them were hired by their present teams without previous NBA experience. Seven of those coaches guided teams to the playoffs last season. Of that group, Scott Brooks, Mark Jackson, Monty Williams, Tyrone Corbin, Larry Drew and Vaughn played previously in the NBA.


  • Both of the coaches in the most recent NBA Finals, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks, were hired by their teams without being NBA head coaches previously. Spoelstra got to the Finals in his second season as a head coach and won a title in his third, while Brooks got the Thunder to the NBA Finals in just his third season as a head coach.


  • Gregg Popovich, Vaughn’s mentor in San Antonio prior to him taking the Magic job, took over the Spurs’ job in 1996 with no prior NBA head coaching experience. He won a title in his third season and has since won three more championships.


  • Phil Jackson, the most successful coach in NBA history, had coached previously in the CBA, but not at the NBA level before getting the Chicago head gig in 1989. He won the first of three straight titles in his second season with the Bulls. Of course, he went on to win six titles in all with Chicago and five more with the Los Angeles Lakers.


  • Other examples of coaches having success without previous NBA head coaching experience include: Rick Adelman (NBA Finals in his first and third full seasons in Portland); Mike Brown (NBA Finals in his second year in Cleveland); Avery Johnson (NBA Finals in his second season in Dallas); Doc Rivers (won Coach of the Year award in first season in Orlando); Byron Scott (guided Nets to NBA Finals in second and third seasons); Tom Thibodeau (won 62 games and reached Eastern Conference Finals in first season in Chicago); San Van Gundy (reached the Eastern Conference Finals in second season in Miami); and Paul Westphal (reached the NBA Finals in first season in Phoenix).


  • For what it’s worth, Vaughn said that while he will be obviously learning on the job in his first season as the Magic’s head coach, he has no doubts about his abilities to do the job. After all, he’s played for some of the game’s best coaches ever in Jerry Sloan, Popovich and Rivers. And because he played in the NBA for 12 years and was a part of a championship team in 2007, Vaughn feels his time around the game will make up for what he missed out on as a head coach.

    ``Some would say I’m inexperienced, but I’ve played 12 years and I’ve coached two years. Would my resume look a little nicer if it said 14 years of experience? Maybe so,’’ Vaughn said. ``But I’ve sat in the seats that (the players) have sat in. I’ll be able to relate to their personal, physical and mental stresses that they come across every day because I’ve been there. I think they’ll relate to that and they’ll appreciate that, and they’ll know that I’m fighting for them and I believe in them.’’

    Magic general manager Rob Hennigan targeted Vaughn years ago as a future star head coach. When the two were together in San Antonio – Hennigan as a player personnel director and Vaughn as a backup point guard – Hennigan marveled at how teammates gravitated to Vaughn, listened to him on the court and responded to his actions. The ability to relate to players and motivate and communicate with them will help Vaughn become an elite head coach, Hennigan said.

    ``Getting to know Jacque and observing him, his attention to detail and his ability to interact with teammates and coaches commanded him a certain level of respect,’’ Hennigan recalled. ``We feel that Jacque’s experience is a relative term. When you look at Jacque’s playing career and the coaches that he’s played for and learned from, we have a high level of confidence that he’s well-equipped and ready for this opportunity.’’

    Of the nine coaches in the history of the Magic (Brian Hill had the job twice), Vaughn is the fourth one to be hired with no previous NBA experience. Hill got the Magic to the 1995 NBA Finals in his second season.

    Rivers, Orlando’s coach from 1999 through 2004, is the coach that Vaughn seems to share the most similarities with. Both were former point guards as players and got NBA head coaching jobs with no previous experience. Also, both were 37 years old when they were hired and have sons named Jeremiah. Rivers won the Coach of the Year award in his first season and got the Magic to the playoffs three straight years before a dismal start in 2004 cost him his job.

    Popovich, who hired Vaughn to his coaching staff not long a year after he retired from playing, compared his former point guard to another of his former players, Avery Johnson. In San Antonio, Popovich had Vaughn prepare opposing scouting reports, conduct team film sessions and focus on player development. Those opportunities, combined with the chance to pick Popovich’s mind on a daily basis helped prepare Vaughn for his first opportunity as a head coach, he said.

    ``I was given a unique opportunity where I had all access and I could see good and bad how a lot of different situations were handled,’’ Vaughn said. ``I owe a lot to a lot of people for that.’’

    Like Jackson with his Zen methods and meditation practices and Popovich’s innovation techniques with strategy, Vaughn said he won’t be afraid to experiment with different means. One will likely be Vaughn’s love of poetry, which he will use to offer perspective to players in various situations.

    ``I was always a big poetry guy, so I always had poetry books and notes around. And I just started writing down (basketball) notes (in the poetry books),’’ Vaughn said. ``To me, poetry shows a vulnerability and a sensitivity and it’s OK having those things in coaching.’’

    Waxing poetically on Monday when he was hired, Vaughn said he won’t ever take himself too seriously or pretend that he knows everything possible about being a head coach. After all, this is his first job as a head coach, but NBA history shows that several first-time head coaches in the NBA have been plenty successful. And Vaughn added that he’s in this for the long haul and not just some sort of quick fix.

    ``The thing about me is that I am a very patient person,’’ he said. ``The success here (previously under Stan Van Gundy) was unbelievable and I’ll always give credit for that. But for me, my patience will transpire to the players. That’s the way I will coach.’’



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