Jackson fully equipped for challenge of NBA coaching
Indianapolis (Sept. 15, 2011) -- If you want to get technical about it, Mark Jackson is facing a major challenge jumping into an NBA head coaching job without any previous experience in the profession at any level.
If you want to get real about it, though, here's the bigger point, straight from Jackson himself: "I've coached my entire life."
So while it is true Jackson will face some hurdles in his first season on the bench with the Golden State Warriors, it is equally true he is fully equipped to clear them on his way to the finish line.
"Being a point guard, I wasn't a scoring point guard, I was always an extension of the coach on the floor," Jackson said. "I've never had a coach that told me what play to run. They always entrusted me to run my own offense. I was always the leader on every team I've ever played on. So just because I've never had the title as far as coach is concerned, this isn't my first time coaching.
"I'll say this: if you ask Pat Riley who was more important to the Showtime Lakers, his lead assistant or Magic Johnson, that's a no-brainer. I would certainly say that it's important to have a point guard or a leader taking control of your locker room, taking control of your team on and off the floor. Now, I do understand the challenges that come with coaching. There are things that are going to be new to me, day-to-day operations, organizational stuff, preparing practices, preparing gameplans, things of that nature. That's all new to me but I'm totally confident and excited about the step that I've taken."
Six of Jackson's NBA seasons were spent with the Pacers, and they coincided with the greatest run of success in franchise history. He was acquired from the Clippers in 1994 and, under coach Larry Brown, directed the team to two straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The only time in a 17-season span the Pacers failed to reach the playoffs was 1996-97, when Jackson was traded to Denver in midseason for Jalen Rose. Realizing the error of his ways, then-boss Donnie Walsh re-acquired Jackson the following summer and the Pacers made three more trips to the conference finals under Larry Bird, culminating in the NBA Finals trip of 2000.
"I played for great coaches," Jackson said. "Larry Brown, one of the all-time great coaches, brilliant in Xs and Os, passionate for the game, a winner. I definitely take the way that he prepared. I had the luxury of playing for him in Indiana and with the Clippers so that really helped and I'm going to take a part of him as I sit in that big chair.
"Same thing with Larry Bird who as a player was one of the all-time greats. As a coach, that's the toughest jump to make because there's not going to be anybody playing like you, on your level. But he did not bring an ego to the table, he was one of the guys and he truly understood what he was good at and what he needed help in and surrounded himself with guys like Rick Carlisle and Dick Harter that completed him.
"That's something in itself that is a great point to learn because I've watched coaches that have committed basketball suicide by acting like they knew when they didn't know and the players are no fools; they know when the coach has no clue."
Jackson hired Michael Malone (son of former Pacers assistant Brendan) as lead assistant and rounded out his staff with Pete Myers, Wes Unseld Jr. and Jerry DeGregorio. It is a mix of youth and experience to help smooth Jackson's transition from the TV analyst role he has filled with ABC and the YES Network in the years since he retired as a player in 2004.
His playing career prepared him well. He played for five coaches currently in the Hall of Fame (Lou Carnesecca, Len Wilkens, Jerry Sloan, Pat Riley and Brown), one in the Hall as a player (Bird) and one that most certainly will wind up there (Rick Pitino). In his 17 seasons as a player, he reached the playoffs 14 times with five different teams. He ranks third in the league's all-time assist list with 10,334.
"I will take from (his former coaches) a lot of the good. I also will take some of the things I didn't like that some of them did and instill that in what I believe in as a coach," he said. "It's important for me to take advantage of the incredible blessing that I had playing for so many great coaches and to instill that and allow that to make who I am as a coach."
And just what kind of coach will Jackson become? He is rooted in old-school values like professionalism, accountability and selflessness. But he also is young enough to understand the Gen-X players and hopes to successfully meld all of those elements.
"I'm not going to be a screamer. I'm not going to be a yeller," he said. "I'm not going to be a guy that's losing sleep. I'm not going to be a guy that sells that basketball is life. There's a whole lot of things more important than basketball but we're going to do things the right way, we're going to hold each other accountable, we're going to defend, we're going to work our tails off and we're going to have a lot of fun. The culture certainly has changed off the court and we're going to demand that it changes on the court."
Jackson's challenge in Golden State is immense. Since the seven-year run under Don Nelson from 1988-95, the Warriors have had 11 coaches (including a return by Nelson) and reached the playoffs just once in 16 years. If he guides the Warriors into the postseason, he will become the first coach other than Nelson to do so since 1988.
A new ownership group headed by Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber, the addition of Jerry West as a front-office consultant and the leadership of General Manager Larry Riley has Jackson convinced the franchise is on the upswing.
"I wouldn't have just taken any job," he said. "I think this team is really headed in the right direction, great ownership that's passionate, that's committed. And you look at our front office, the things that they've done, they've handled it professionally from day one, which made it even more attractive to me. And then the talent; I think this is a team that has underachieved and with making the right moves we're going to be in the mix."
Had this opportunity never arrived, Jackson said his life wouldn't have been incomplete. His playing career was prolific and rewarding. He was a major success as a network analyst.
On the other hand, this is a role that has seemed destined for most of his life.
"As a kid, I would sit in the corner, listen to Knick games and I was Earl Monroe on the floor, I was Marv Albert calling the games and I was Red Holzman coaching games," he said. "It was truly a dream to cover all of those bases.
"The missing link was I did not have an opportunity to coach. Fortunately, that opportunity has now come alive and I'm excited about it. It's going to be a lot of fun."