Frank Vogel's Positivity Helps His Players Stay Confident

By John Denton
March 18, 2017

ORLANDO – After his Orlando Magic were clobbered in every way imaginable on Thursday against Golden State, guard Evan Fournier braced himself for Friday morning’s team meeting, figuring head coach Frank Vogel would verbally blister the team all throughout a fiery film session.

But just when the slumping Magic were counting on Vogel to zig by cracking the theoretical whip, he instead zagged and came with an encouraging and supportive message. Rather than barking out the negatives, Vogel instead pointed out positives. He told his team how it wasn’t the first to get overwhelmed by Golden State and superstar guards Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and that he still believed in their abilities the next night against the Phoenix Suns.

Sure enough, the Magic rewarded their coach’s faith in them by responding with a strong start and an even better finish to defeat Phoenix and capture a much-needed victory.

``He told us, `Let’s flush that (Golden State) game out and move on.’ I was actually surprised and I was ready to get roasted, to be honest. But that’s just who Frank is,’’ Fournier said. ``Definitely, the most positive thing about Frank is that he’s always encouraging and he’s always trying to find good even in bad games. He’s right – we didn’t do everything wrong and had some good stuff, so he focuses on that. Of course, he shows us what we have to improve on, but he’d definitely a positive person.’’

This disappointing season, Vogel’s first in Orlando and one he fully anticipated would end up with the Magic back in the playoffs, has challenged his perpetually positive personality. Vogel, 43, hasn’t shied away from showing his teeth – most notably following bad road losses in Indiana and Boston – but for the most part he’s remained in the corner of his players while promising them that better days lie ahead.

That has kept the Magic – 25-45 and set to play Philadelphia on Monday at the Amway Center – fighting and playing hard, as evidenced by stirring victories against Atlanta, Miami, Chicago and Phoenix in recent weeks. The credit for Orlando sticking with the process, striving daily for improvement and fighting to the end goes to Vogel, stressed Magic forward Aaron Gordon.

``He still fights for us and that makes me want to fight for him,’’ said Gordon, who bounced back from a tough Thursday night to deliver 17 points, four dunks and three blocked shots on Friday. ``I’ve got total respect for Frank because even after a tough loss like that one (versus Golden State), he can still smile and we can have a conversation. That’s big. As good a coach as he is, he’s an even better person. That’s the highest compliment that I can pay somebody.’’

All the losing hasn’t been easy to stomach for Vogel, someone who admittedly has a tough time shaking his team’s poor performances and that wear and tear can often be seen in the dark circles in his bleary, sleep-deprived eyes. He’s had a hard time getting a good read on a Magic team that has followed up some of the worst losses with impressive wins and one that hasn’t captured consecutive victories in nearly three months.

Vogel is relatively new to these kinds of struggles what with his Indiana Pacers making the playoffs five times in his six seasons as head coach, and the one miss came after a devastating leg injury to star forward Paul George. That team, Vogel notes proudly, was only eliminated from playoff contention because of an unfortunate tiebreaker.

He took the job in Orlando last May fully expecting to help the Magic end their playoff drought at four years. That almost certainly will not happen, and Vogel has spent countless hours trying to figure out where things went wrong this season.

``It’s been difficult, to be honest, on your day-to-day life,’’ Vogel said. ``You have to keep a positive attitude about what we can be and not on what we have done. I try to keep a forward-looking approach and talk about ways we can turn it around.’’

EVERYBODY LOVES FRANK

Listen to many around the league and they believe intently that Vogel and his supportive style will ultimately lead to success in Orlando. Veteran power forward David West, who had some of his best years playing for Vogel in Indiana, said his old coach has a method that might be a bit unconventional by NBA standards, but it has proven to work.

``He’s got a unique ability in terms of being able to encourage and motivate and that wasn’t something that was there when I first came into the league,’’ West said earlier in the week. ``A lot of coaches back then hung their hat on it being, `My way or the highway,’ but Frank’s not that way. He demands a lot, but he gives guys a lot of freedom to get the best out of them. Some coaches are adversarial with that `me vs. you’ approach, but Frank works with guys.’’

That was something that Earl Watson saw during his one season playing in Indiana when Vogel was an assistant coach there. Now the head coach of the Suns, Watson said he went into coaching largely because of the positive impact that Vogel had on his life personally and professionally. He was adamant in saying that he feels Vogel will eventually turn the Magic into a winner again.

``There is no quit in Frank,’’ Watson said with conviction. ``He didn’t get here (to the NBA) with that mentality. I always knew he’d be a great head coach.’’

HE LOVES THE GRIND

Vogel coached the 500th regular-season game of his career on Thursday night and he has no plans of quitting any time soon. He said if all goes well, he’ll coach 500 more games and, who knows, maybe another 500 after that. That should bode well for the Magic considering that Vogel has a career record of 275-226 and a winning percentage of .549 and he’s still relatively young in his career.

Part of the reason he’s able to stay so perpetually positive, Vogel said, is because he absolutely loves what he does. Coaching is all he’s wanted to do since he leaving tiny Juniata (Pa.) College and talking and working his way into a video coordinator job at the University of Kentucky, where he ultimately was part of a National Championship team.

Vogel is one of those masochist coaches who loves the challenge of resolving failure almost as much as he does savoring success. His grinder nature is a product of those grunt-work hours as a video coordinator, and his happy-go-lucky persona comes from his supportive upbringing by a mom and dad who were often his coaches in youth sports. (He’s done the same with his two daughters, coaching both of their soccer teams at times.)

Without question, Vogel has taken the losing hard this season. But like in that Magic meeting on Friday morning when he stressed the positives instead of harping on the negatives, Vogel can see beyond the darkness and to brighter days ahead for the Magic.

``At different times, I feel like we’ve reached players and, at times, I feel that we should have done better,’’ Vogel said. ``As a coach, you always feel like you can take any group of guys and be successful with them, but we haven’t had a lot of success in the win/loss column. So that’s disappointing, but it’s something that we’re going to continue to work to turn around. I’m positive that we can do that.’’

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