Chad Forcier: Beyond A Dream

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His column will appear every Wednesday.

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Chad Forcier working with James Anderson.
(D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images)

He is sitting in a padded leather chair at the Spurs practice facility, legs crossed, eyes lit with wonder. One hour before the start of the NBA draft, Chad Forcier is reflecting on a thrilling, can’t-believe-it’s-real journey, his mind racing through a sequence of improbable events that brought him to an improbable position.

Chad Forcier did not play pro ball. He did not play college ball. He played high school ball in Rainier, Wash., where his graduating class of 1991 numbered about 60 students. But here he is, a veteran NBA assistant coach with a growing reputation. Forcier helps good players get better.

He refuses to take credit for the improvement players have made. But Forcier is a force, recognized for his skill and work ethic, if not for his remarkable story.

“I knew I wanted to be a coach,” he says, recalling the aspirations of his youth. “But the idea of coaching professional basketball was out on the moon. It wasn’t even a dream. I never thought about it. I just wanted to be a high school coach.”

Unrecruited out of Rainier High, Forcier matriculated to Seattle Pacific University. He roomed with a member of the basketball team as a freshman. He hung out with the Falcons, played with them in pick up games and decided to walk on as a sophomore. Then came an unexpected break: a door to the NBA swung open and Forcier found himself in the Seattle SuperSonics locker room, keys literally in his hand. “It was straight luck,” he says. “Right place. Right time.”

The Sonics held their training camp in the Seattle Pacific gym. A friend from the school's student employment office told Forcier the Sonics had three or four temporary job openings. Forcier sprinted across campus to the gym and asked: Which one lasts the longest? The one with the sports nutrition program, he was told. Forcier asked for it and was handed a set of keys. “Within 30 minutes, I was in the locker room,” he says. “I remember shaking my head and thinking, ‘This is the weirdest, most random thing ever.’”

He thought it would be a one year gig. But the Sonics -- then coached by George Karl -- kept him a second year, even as Forcier pestered coaches with questions and, like a regular assistant, studied scouting reports and game film. Then came a third year and a role under assistant coach Tim Grgurich during practice. And the craziest part: Forcier became a high school varsity assistant and junior varsity head coach while juggling college classes and the Sonics. After Sonics home games, Forcier would arrive at his apartment around midnight and begin studying. “I didn’t sleep that much,” he recalls. “It was so much fun and my ambition was so high. I didn’t have an ordinary college experience.”

How many college guys work under Karl? How many learn at the feet of a skills guru like Grgurich?

Hanging with the guys, going to parties -- there wasn’t time. And the little free time he had, he spent studying the game. “I lived with him during college and I had to tell him to turn off the light,” says Todd Forcier, Chad’s younger brother, the assistant strength and conditioning coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. “He was at his desk, reading Dean Smith books, Bobby Knight books, anything he could get his hands on. People along the way were telling him he was crazy. ‘Hang it up. Get a normal job. Are you insane?’ They obviously didn’t know about Chad’s resiliency. He’s focused. You can’t break him.”

In five seasons with the Sonics, Chad went from managing nutrition to coaching. from intern to “special assistant.” He grabbed rebounds and set screens, anything he was asked. In time, he earned a degree in exercise physiology, finished his gig with the Sonics and became a college assistant, first at Oregon State, then at the University of Portland. At age 28, he became an NBA assistant.

Long story short: In Honolulu, Chad befriended Rick Carlisle at the "Pete Newell Big Man Camp" of the Hall of Fame legend. When Carlisle became head coach of the Detroit Pistons, he hired Chad as an assistant. Chad followed Carlisle to Indiana. The Spurs brought him to San Antonio in 2007.

How do you explain this journey? “Chad has worked hard to get where he is,” Todd Forcier says.

During the summer, Chad flies often and far -- Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, New York -- to work with players on their game. He loves the job, the people, the life of an NBA assistant. “I’m blessed,” he says.

He knows his story is unusual. But he notes that it’s not unique. Lawrence Frank didn’t play college ball. Frank didn’t make his high school team in New Jersey. Yet Frank became head coach of the New Jersey Nets -- won his first 13 games, in fact -- and now works as the lead assistant in Boston.

Chad Forcier hasn’t climbed as high as Frank but he’s enjoyed the journey as much as anyone ever has. In that padded leather chair he sits in gym clothes. Spurs cap. Spurs t-shirt. A pair of sneakers. A smile stretches across his face. The smile of a man living a life bigger than a dream.