Denton: Much Approval for Vaughn's Positivity

By John Denton
February 12, 2013

ORLANDO – There was a time in Jacque Vaughn’s life, some 27 years ago to be more exact, when he was going into the sixth grade and he had to have himself at the bus stop every morning by 6 a.m. in order to make it to middle school on time.

He didn’t like getting up before sunrise, but he dealt with it.

Later in life, after Vaughn had reached the NBA and was he playing for Utah, Atlanta, Orlando, New Jersey and San Antonio, he had stretches where he was either playing backup minutes, getting on the court in mop-up duty only or not playing at all. Again, he didn’t like it, but he dealt with it.

Now, as the first-year coach of the Magic and still the NBA’s youngest coach even after turning 38 years old on Monday, Vaughn doesn’t like that his first team has had to go through a myriad of injuries and the roster uncertainty that comes with a franchise that in a time of transition. He’s not particularly proud of Orlando’s 15-36 record, but he does take pride in the fact that the team has hung together, continued to fight and continues to get great growth from the Magic’s host of young players.

No, Vaughn doesn’t necessarily like where things stand right now, but he deals with it.

``I didn’t say coming into this year saying that we’d have a bunch of injuries and different starting lineups – that was not the goal. But you deal with it,’’ he said. ``I wake up and I meet with the trainer when I get here and we deal with it. That’s really how I’ve approached life. … That’s just a part of me. I’m just thankful of my parents.’’

Vaughn’s parents would probably be proud to know that his Magic players have dubbed him, ``The Prince of Positivity.’’ As his team approaches Wednesday’s home game against the Atlanta Hawks – the final game before the NBA’s All-Star break – Vaughn has managed to keep the Magic together through just about everything that the league’s marathon season has thrown at it. Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis was recently lost for the season with a fractured foot, veteran forward Al Harrington has yet to play a game and the Magic recently played a game in Philadelphia with six of its most important players not dressed out.

Through it all – including losing streaks of 10 and 12 games – the Magic have continued to push through and play hard. Further evidence of that came Sunday night when the Magic shared the ball as well as it had all season (34 assists and six players in double figures) in a 110-104 whipping of the Portland Trail Blazers. Vaughn has worked to be the same coach every day, regardless of whether his team is on a winning streak or a losing streak. There have been brief moments of abject frustration, but Vaughn said he’s been able to keep himself centered and remain positive by focusing on the larger picture.

``I, a lot of times, look at things differently than people,’’ he said. ``I see the full scope of players getting better and the fact that I our team was making it through this stretch together and fighting adversity. Losing brings out a lot of bad in people. It becomes divisive and it becomes finger-pointing. And the fact that team has not done that during multiple stretches allowed me to keep my eyes on the bigger picture. We’re going to build with character people in the locker room over the long haul and we’ll be able to deal with this stretch and grow. So for me, there was no woe is me.’’

Where Vaughn’s positivity has had the biggest effect is easing the transition for the host of new players and the team’s four rookies. Drawing off his experience as a former NBA player, Vaughn has given his players incredible freedom on the court, often allowing them to call their own plays or make their own judgments on reads. And for some of the holdovers, who played for the highly successful, but also highly volatile Stan Van Gundy – Vaughn’s endless flow of positivity has been a breath of fresh air.

``He’s a very positive coach and a very positive man. I think he’s got a good outlook on things and he keeps things in perspective,’’ Magic guard J.J. Redick said. ``He’s not overly demonstrative in any way and that’s the first thing that strikes you about him. He’s also a coach who gives a lot of freedom to his players and he holds you accountable for your mistakes.’’

Vaughn played for some of the greatest coaches ever to stalk a sideline, ranging from Gregg Popovich to Jerry Sloan to Doc Rivers to Roy Williams. He’s taken bits and pieces from each of those coaches along the way to shape who he is as a coach. But in addition to influence that his parents had on him back in those days when he was walking to the bus stop prior to the sun rising, Vaughn said that former Utah Jazz assistant coach Gordon Chiesa taught him the most about how to relate to players of all statures, backgrounds and nationalities. He did so, Vaughn remembered, with positivity.

``He knew how to approach each player and get something positive out of them while pushing them to grow,’’ Vaughn said of Chiesa, whom he hired over the summer as a special consultant to the head coach. ``It was tough when I wasn’t playing (during his time with the Jazz) – he saw me start, he saw me not play and he saw me being the third point guard and he would still engage me and push me forward. He did the majority of it with positivity.’’

The trick for Vaughn, of course, is being able to walk the fine line of holding players accountable for their actions and also remaining positive. But Vaughn has said that he pulls no punches when the team is walking game film or in huddles during games, stressing that he will point out lapses. There is no give on that, he insists, and there never can be any if he is going to continue to be respected as a head coach.

``When we watch tape I have no qualms about saying this person didn’t box out or this person didn’t sprint back. So there’s an accountability across the board,’’ he said. ``Also, our preparation hasn’t changed from when we were 12-13 to now. I enjoy winning a lot more than losing, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to change the way I talk to (players) and the way I carry myself. I don’t think those two things (losing and dealing with people) go hand-in-hand.’’

Though he had never been a head coach at any level before this season, Vaughn came to the Magic quite prepared to lead a team because of his studying under his previous coaches and his work with the Spurs. He has stressed that little has surprised him and that nothing has totally caught him off guard. But on Tuesday he did allude for the first time that his one struggle so far been learning how to leave his work at the arena.

Vaughn is admittedly consumed with building the Magic the right way and building a winner in Orlando. At times, it is a bit consuming to him. But he’s learned that he has to get away from it from time to time to recharge himself. Take, for example, Monday when Vaughn got home ``a couple of hours’’ earlier than normal. He didn’t do that because it was his birthday, but instead in an attempt to bring balance to his life. He said he’ll continue to push himself incredibly hard – as he did when he was getting to the bus stop at 6 a.m. and as he did when he was pushing for more playing time as a reserve point guard – but he’ll do so with more balance in his life. And whatever comes his way, he’ll deal with it.

``Without a doubt, (the biggest adjustment) was (a scenario) like (Monday), going home and being able to spend time with my family,’’ Vaughn said. ``At the beginning of this job that was going to be the challenge for me because of my personality. I’ve always tried to drive myself to be the best that I can. For me to have longevity as a coach, I have to remind myself of having balance. It’s up to my coaching staff to remind me to have a balance and it’s up to me to self-evaluate and know things like my kids have a basketball game tomorrow.’’

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