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Vogel Reflects on Career in Talk at JCC

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

August 28, 2013

Pacers head coach Frank Vogel took time away from his busy offseason to speak at the JCC of Indianapolis on Tuesday night. During the 90-minute sit-down moderated by 1070 The Fan personality and Pacers PA announcer Michael Grady, Vogel took the audience of about 90 people inside his world – tracing his journey from childhood, to inside the start of his budding career in the NBA, all the way to next season.

“It was a neat, a unique type of energy,” Vogel said afterwards. “It was couch-style, sitting in those two chairs I felt like I was being interviewed by Oprah. Michael Grady obviously does a great job and it was just fun to be part of the JCC.”

The JCC tried to get Vogel to speak last summer, but their schedules never quite matched up. Having Vogel speak one evening is part of the JCC’s ongoing program to bring in successful, high-level thinkers. Previous sports guests include former Colts center Jeff Saturday and Hall of Fame college basketball coach Bob Knight.

Lev Rothenberg, the JCC’s Director of Arts and Education, said he hopes that those in the audience walked away from the night feeling like they know Vogel after getting a unique glimpse into his life. Rothenberg also believed that those that may not be basketball fans will likely now come to a Pacers game or at least root them on, because of the impression Vogel left on the audience.

Grady, who did an excellent job asking questions and directing the conversation, started off the evening going way back to Vogel’s childhood – in Wildwood, New Jersey. Vogel quickly jumped in, “I was in the Jersey Shore before it was the Jersey Shore.” His father was a typist and his mother worked at the local high school.

Many of the highlights from the discussion are listed below.

  • Yes, they watched and discussed his childhood Letterman appearance.
  • His favorite player growing up was Dr. J.
  • He closed his sophomore year at Juniata College with a 2.6 GPA. That’s where he decided being a doctor or brain surgeon wasn’t for him, he joked.
  • Thinking about the next stage of his life, he transferred to the University of Kentucky to work under Rick Pitino, who he had long admired. During that time, his relationship with former Pacers coach Jim O’Brien first took off.
  • His final season in Lexington, 1995-96, he played on the Wildcats’ junior varsity team. The varsity team, which included Tony Delk, Nazr Mohammed, Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer, Walter McCarty, and Jamaal Magloire, won the National Championship that year – beating Syracuse in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
  • When Pitino left for the Celtics, Vogel followed as the head video coordinator. Vogel told a fib at that time, saying he was great with computers when, in fact, he was not computer savvy at all.
  • Vogel’s biggest takeaways from Pitino were the power of belief and the hard work that was necessary in this business. He shared stories of Pitino making a 5’6” player feeling much taller because he had a way of building confidence. As a student manager at Kentucky, Vogel would drive Pitino to his speeches, and that was one great way he was able to soak in everything Pitino had to say.
  • As for Jim O’Brien (JOB), Vogel couldn’t compliment him enough. They were inseparable, he said, and that JOB was an excellent mentor. Vogel explained how much of a numbers guy O’Brien was, “almost to his fault.”
  • It was during the lockout of 1998-99 when he got married to Jennifer, a woman from Connecticut that he met while in Boston. They have two daughters, Alexis, 9, and Arianna, 7.
  • When Larry Bird called him to ask if he was interested in taking over as head coach in 2011, Jim O’Brien was also on the line. “Frank, it’s me, it’s OB,” Vogel recalled. “I just want to let you know that this is the right thing for this team and you’re ready for this. I fully support this and I’ve been telling Larry for years that you’re going to be a great head coach. This is your time so you shouldn’t have any hesitations about anything at all.”
  • After he took over for O'Brien, Vogel first showed his infamous David Letterman clip, where he brushed his teeth while spinning a basketball. He also showed his team plenty of Rocky clips to fire them up for the task at hand.
  • He thought the 2011 lockout worked out great for him, as he finally had the interim tag removed and had hired his assistant coaches – Brian Shaw, Jim Boylen and Dan Burke. Though they couldn’t communicate with the players, the coaches had countless meetings where they built a comfort with each other while discussing Xs and Os.
  • During the lockout, Vogel and his staff visited local colleges including Indiana, Purdue, Butler, Louisville and Kentucky. At Butler under Brad Stevens, the team practices at 6 a.m. When they visited Louisville and that information was passed to the Louisville coaches, Vogel received a note from Richard Pitino the next day saying, “Whichever one of your assistants said Butler is practicing is a 6 a.m. is never allowed back. Now we’re practicing at 6 a.m.”
  • In the absence of Danny Granger, the team got off to a slow start last season, beginning the season 10-11. The team stabilized when Lance Stephenson earned a starting spot. Vogel recalled saying, “Thank goodness Larry Bird was right about Lance.”
  • Though many view him as an optimist, he believes he’s actually a realist.
  • Vogel was called for nine technicals fouls last season, more than any other coach in the NBA. “I’ll never lead the league in technicals again,” he vowed.
  • Vogel believes the top five teams in the Eastern Conference this season will be the Pacers, Heat, Bulls, Nets and Knicks (in no order). His dark horses are Boston and Cleveland.
  • Paul George’s skills aren’t his best attributes. Vogel believes George’s heart and determination are huge, and the key reason for his emergence as the face of the team.
  • Vogel said that Roy Hibbert is extremely excited to have a true big man coach in Popeye Jones.
  • There’s no better resource to go to than Larry Bird. And when he’s watching, “everybody practices harder,” said Vogel.
  • Vogel said he still hasn’t had a feeling that he's "made it" yet. All he has on his mind is winning a championship.

Before wrapping up the night, Vogel gave his advice the young kids in the crowd:

“Try to identify, as soon as you can, what your passion is. What really keeps you up at night and what are you really in love with. If you can identify your passion, then you have to pursue a profession in that passion. If you can do that, you’re going to be great at whatever you do. You’re going to be enormously successful. There’s so many people in this world that go to work everyday, then when it’s time to leave work, they go spend time with their passion. They don’t have that combined as one thing. When your passion is your profession, you want to do it around the clock. You’re always going to be working hard and you’re always going to be working extra – and you’re going to be extremely successful.”

One gentleman said he entered the JCC’s auditorium a Pistons fan. After hearing coach Vogel share his story and discuss the team, he told Vogel that he’s a Pacers fan from now on.

Following the sit-down interview, Pacers.com spoke with Vogel one-on-one about a few items.

On the voluntary team camp in Los Angeles last week:

“It was really good. We had eight guys out there. A couple guys that were injured, getting back and just contributing on a limited basis. We just got a lot of shots up, had a couple good dinners –which is as big of part of it as anything. There were some great pickup games that take place out at the Clippers’ practice facility. It’s always important that these guys are playing enough, not just working on their individual skills but getting to play some games as well.”

On Danny Granger’s health:

“Yes, he played some one-on-one stuff. He’s still limited, but he’s on schedule. That’s the best way to put it with the medical team. We’re very encouraged with where he’s at.”

On hiring former intern Mike DiBenedetto as a second assistant video coordinator:

“We’ve always sort of had four video coordinators anyway, in terms of two full-time guys and then two interns that were full time. We just wanted to keep Mike around, make him full-time, so he and Jhared (Simpson) will be the assistant video coordinators.”

On whether he’d ever consider joining Twitter:

“All that stuff, I kind of feel like my life’s in the public eye anyway. Everybody kind of knows what I’m doing anyway. Maybe someday I’ll be on Twitter, but not yet.”

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