Strong Presence

Frank’s passion, organization stood out in interview with Joe D

Lawrence Frank
Lawrence Frank
In a coaching search that included two near 7-footers among the five known candidates, Joe Dumars was struck by the aura of the one candidate well shy of 6 feet.

“He has a strong presence,” Dumars said of Lawrence Frank, introduced Wednesday as the successor to John Kuester as Pistons coach. “What caught my attention is he seems to embrace that head coaching seat. Lawrence is 40 years old. For a young guy like him who has that kind of energy, who has that kind of passion for the position, it jumps out at you when you sit and talk to him.”

Dumars said his mission when he started the process of finding his next head coach in early June was to identify a young coach who would be a good fit for a roster in transition and held the potential to lend stability to the position as a young team evolved.

“We wanted to get somebody who was young and smart who we could grow with for a long time,” he said. “It wasn’t preconceived that the person had to have former NBA head coaching experience, but that surely helped that you could hire someone who had been on a bench before and had done it before.

“To get a young, smart guy who has a track record, who understands what the position is all about … I don’t want to say it was the only criterion, but it surely helped to have that.”

And while he was at New Jersey, Frank proved his staying power by lasting five full seasons plus parts of two others. He was hired to coach a team that was an Eastern Conference contender, but quickly saw the franchise’s agenda change to focus on cost-cutting in an effort to attract investors as ownership pointed toward a move to Brooklyn and building a new arena as the anchor of a residential and commercial development.

What caught the attention of longtime NBA observers was the obvious respect Frank commanded from a veteran team that had hovered around .500 under Byron Scott but immediately won 13 straight under Frank.

“His youthful appearance early on was a proving ground for him to have to overcome,” Dumars said, “but the guy was a head coach there for six years and did a really good job. A couple of things that were impressive about what happened in New Jersey are, not only did the players respect him, but a guy I really respect in Rod Thorn, also. Don’t lose sight of that type of stamp to get put on him by that type of guy in this league. Rod is not some easy pushover who hasn’t been around. Rod and I have had a lot of talks, during that time and up until now.

“The players responded, but when you’ve got a guy like Rod who puts his stamp on him and says, ‘This guy can lead,’ that helped tremendously.”

Frank was fired after the gutted New Jersey roster stumbled to a 0-16 start to the 2009-10 season and worked for the rest of that year as an analyst for NBA-TV. In the off-season, he was pursued by Boston to replace Tom Thibodeau when he was hired to coach the Chicago Bulls. Frank filled Thibodeau’s role as Boston’s defensive specialist.

That experience could prove invaluable in Frank’s maturation as a coach. Not only did it help solidify his credentials as a teacher, it also helped give Frank a new perspective, which he conveyed to Dumars in their interview. As a first-time coach, it was said that Frank failed to trust his assistant coaches with the type of responsibility Rivers gave him.

“Rod has talked about that,” Dumars said. “I talked to Doc Rivers about that and I talked to Lawrence about that. He said, ‘Being with Doc really helped me tie the loop. When I went in, I was 33 years old, this little guy – I had to establish everything.’ Guys get tired of hearing you. Now he jokes and says he’s shocked they didn’t get tired of hearing him quicker than six years. He was doing everything. Now he understands.”

Frank won the job over former Pistons assistant and Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Woodson and three other NBA assistant coaches: Kelvin Sampson, now a part of Houston’s staff; ex-Piston Bill Laimbeer, who coached on Minnesota’s staff last season; and Orlando’s Patrick Ewing.

“When you talk to him, he is extremely prepared and organized,” Dumars said. “Communication will be one of his strongest suits.”

Frank’s experience working with Boston’s defense gives hope that he can help remedy the Pistons problems at that end, where they ranked 30th in opposition field-goal percentage defense a year ago. But Dumars is fully confident he’s getting much more than a defensive specialist.

“That was just the role that was asked of him in Boston,” he said. “His reputation is that of a couple of things. As Rod said, no one will be more prepared every night, and this is not a guy who is going to get outcoached. He’s going to be in there the entire way. That’s his reputation. More than as a defensive coach, it’s a well-rounded, young, real smart, progressive guy as a coach.”