Denton: Vaughn to Face off Against Mentor in Return to San Antonio

By John Denton
April 2, 2013

SAN ANTONIO – The Orlando Magic suffered through a dismal first half on Monday night in Houston, one in which they allowed the Rockets to score on the first 11 possessions of the game and ultimately pile up 65 points in the first 24 minutes.

Magic rookie forward Maurice Harkless has been on teams in high school and college where the coach would have come into the locker room upset by the bad first half and started punching dry-erase boards and screaming loud enough to blow the paint off the walls.

But much to the amazement of Harkless, Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn stayed back out of the fray, allowing the players to talk among themselves and figure out what was going wrong. Then, at the end of the venting session, Vaughn re-entered with some second-half adjustments and some comforting encouragement.

``That was big for our group. It’s coming from us. We’re the ones playing, so sometimes Coach Vaughn knows it’s best if we’re the ones who figure it out,’’ said Harkless, who helped lead a 60-46 Magic turnaround in the second half that nearly resulted in an improbable come-from-behind victory. ``Some young guys, if you yell at them, it might get them out of their game, but Jacque does a really good job of talking to you. He talks you through mistakes and lets you keep playing. I think he’s done a great job with our young guys instilling confidence in our group.’’

Vaughn’s coaching mentor, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, has led the Spurs to four NBA championships with a no-nonsense, fiery coaching style. Vaughn said on Tuesday as his Magic prepared to face the Spurs on Wednesday night that he owed his job in coaching to Popovich. But unlike the coach whom he learned the game under both as a player and an assistant, Vaughn has gone about this mentoring of players a different way.

On a team full of youngsters – the Magic have five rookies and three second-year players – Vaughn has tried to adopt a calm, patient approach. That’s not the way some of the coaches he played for – greats such as Jerry Sloan, Doc Rivers or Popovich – would have handled things, but it’s the way that Vaughn has chosen. That manner, he said, could change in the future as the roster evolves with more veteran players, but for now he feels that keeping his cool is the best approach.

``I believe in not trying to be someone that I’m not,’’ Vaughn said. ``I said that from the first day. I’ve been around some great coaches, but I’m not going to try to be like they are. At the same time, (Magic players) have seen my edge throughout the year at various points. But I have chosen to do it differently. It’s probably a different approach.’’

Vaughn, the NBA’s youngest head coach at 38 years old, has had plenty to test his patience in his first season along the sidelines. He lost two starters – Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu – in the first game of the year to injuries; he lost two more starters – Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis and Arron Afflalo – to season-ending injuries. And because of various injuries, illnesses, suspensions and two trade-deadline transactions, Vaughn has had to trot out 25 different lineups – the second most in the NBA.

But, in many ways, he is doing exactly what he thinks he was meant to do. As a player for 12 years in the NBA, he personified the cliché of being ``a coach on the court,’’ what with the way he shepherded teammates and kept the harmony in the locker room. Vaughn never thought about coaching until the latter stages of his career, a career that ended in San Antonio with him winning a title while playing under Popovich. But the more he thought about his role on teams, the more coaching seemed to make sense.

``I look at it from a broader perspective now and I was coaching then (as a player), I was coaching within the locker room. Whether it was going to eat with the 13th guy on the team or going to eat with the superstar on the team. It was my relating to guys,’’ he said.

``As my career evolved, I saw that (coaching) was what I wanted to do,’’ he continued. ``I know the game, I’ve been around it long enough, been in some great places and around some great coaches. I kept notes along the way on other players, so the preparation was part of me. So it was natural for me to go in that (coaching) direction.’’

And he got the ultimate tutorial in coaching from Popovich, who hired him as an assistant coach even though he had never run a team on any level of basketball. Now, as he prepares to face Popovich for a second time this season and the first time in San Antonio, Vaughn is thankful that his mentor taught him some of the tricks of the trade.

``He’s the reason why I’m here today (as the Magic’s head coach). There are no if, ands or buts about it,’’ Vaughn said candidly. ``I’ll always be grateful of what he taught me. He didn’t have to put me on staff, so I’ll be forever grateful.’’

While he learned Xs and Os, how to structure practices and various motivational tactics from Popovich, Vaughn also realized he had to do certain things his own way. Whereas some coaches scream, stomp and motivate through their fiery personas, Vaughn instead decided long ago that he will talk to players as grown men and treat them with respect – all the while making sure to hold them accountable for their actions.

``My timeouts (in Monday’s slow start versus Houston) were probably very anti-coach. If you ask the players, it was just a very calming approach. I think sometimes that’s needed,’’ Vaughn said. ``You have to be able to adapt to the environment. The environment that we’re in this season, there’s a lot of teaching, and that comes from clarity. That’s how we’re trying to be as a coaching staff to our players.’’

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