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Vogel Inherits A Big Challenge But, Frankly, He's Up To It

by Conrad Brunner || Caught in the Web Archive

January 30, 2011

Taking over an NBA team is a dream a precious few coaches can fulfill.

Except when it's more like a nightmare. Welcome to Frank Vogel's world.

Understand, Vogel will do everything in his power to succeed as the Pacers' interim coach, and he cherishes this opportunity. But he couldn't be less comfortable with the circumstances.

See, Vogel has never sat on an NBA bench next to any other coach but Jim O'Brien. He was with O'Brien in Boston and Philadelphia before rejoining him with the Pacers in 2007.

And so with Sunday's dismissal of O'Brien after three-and-a-half seasons, no playoff berths and a 121-169 record, Vogel moves into the lead chair on the bench for the first time in 14 years in the NBA.

"I'm an emotional mess," said Vogel after the press conference announcing his promotion Sunday at Conseco Fieldhouse. "I'm so excited about this opportunity, I just wish it were under different circumstances. He's like a father figure to me. It's a sad day and a very exciting day at the same time."

Vogel, 37, first encountered O'Brien when the latter was on Rick Pitino's staff at the University of Kentucky in 1996. For the birth of his NBA career in 1997, he rejoined the two in Boston as the Celtics' video coordinator, becoming an assistant coach in 2001.

After O'Brien resigned in January 2004, Vogel became an advance scout for the Lakers (2005-06) and Wizards (2006-07). When the Pacers hired O'Brien, Vogel rejoined his mentor.

Team President Larry Bird made it clear this move was expected to generate results. He expects the Pacers to reach the playoffs, a goal certainly not out of reach for the 17-27 team but one that will take a quick reversal to attain. Indiana has lost 17 of 23, including seven of the last eight.

"Even though he hasn't coached a lot, he's had a lot of experience," said Bird. "We've got good guys. They know what's going on. They'll react to it. …

"I have all the confidence in the world in this young man. He's a basketball coach and he'll get the job done for us."

Nine of the next 12 games are against teams with sub-.500 records to the opportunity for a surge exists.

"I know our players. I know what they need," said Vogel. "I know what their strengths and weaknesses are. I've just got to make some adjustments and try to win each game."

Perhaps the toughest thing to do in coaching, and ultimately the challenge that cost O'Brien, is managing the development of a team's young talent while maintaining the priority on winning. Vogel inherits that challenge, as well as the need to make some schematic and rotation changes on the fly.

And, as he pointed out, "while learning myself on the fly."

We'll all be on that voyage of discovery with him and, frankly, I believe it will be a revelation.