Frank Vogel Excited to Coach Magic's Promising Young Core

By John Denton
May 20, 2016

ORLANDO – Little did they know it at the time, but the heart and fight that the Orlando Magic displayed back on March 31 in a stirring defeat of the Indiana Pacers would go a long way in determining their next head coach nearly two months later.

Though he said that it was ``everything about the job’’ that ultimately convinced him to become the Magic’s next head coach, Vogel pointed to Orlando’s 114-94 throttling of the Pacers late in the season as a sign that the franchise had a tremendously bright future.

It’s a future that Vogel wanted to be a part of in Orlando.

``You could just see (the Magic’s) athleticism, shot-making and togetherness and it was all coming together for them. We knew that was going to be a tough game that night and it was because they kicked our tails,’’ remembered Vogel, the coach of the Pacers at the time. ``How they played down the stretch made me believe that this team is ready to make a big jump.’’

Vogel, 42, hopes to be a driving force in helping the Magic make that big jump in the years ahead, agreeing to become Orlando’s next head coach on Thursday. His appointment became official on Friday and he can’t wait to get started coaching a Magic team that he feels has all of the talent and experience needed to be in the postseason as early as next spring.

``That’s what this group is about and a big part of what attracted me to this job is the feeling that this group is ready,’’ Vogel said of Orlando’s young core of players. ``It’s not just the talent, but it’s the stages of their careers that the core is in. This group is ready to make that next jump. My intention is to come in and make this happen for this group right away and make that jump (to the playoffs) this year. This is going to be a season about being on a mission and winning a lot of games.’’

Vogel helped the Magic pick up the pieces after they were stunned by the abrupt resignation of Scott Skiles as head coach last Thursday following just one season on Orlando’s bench. Vogel, who led the Pacers to five playoff appearances in the past 5 ½ seasons, was Orlando’s top target and CEO Alex Martins and GM Rob Hennigan acted swiftly and boldly in securing the man many consider to be the best coaching candidate on the market.

``While we were conducting our search, it became very evident that Frank is a terrific fit for our organization,’’ Hennigan said. ``He is a strong, hard-working and experienced leader, who will continue to instill smart, physical, unselfish and defensive-minded basketball in our group. We welcome him into the Magic family, as we move forward in a positive direction.’’

Added Martins: ``In Frank, we feel we have someone with tremendous perseverance, character and great balance. He is an effective communicator, who brings a wealth of strategic and postseason experience, and is someone who is incredibly excited to embrace the journey ahead. We are excited to welcome Frank and his wonderful family to our Magic family.’’

The owner of a 250-181 career regular-season record and a 31-30 mark in the playoffs, Vogel had his choice of jobs after his contract wasn’t renewed by Pacers President Larry Bird on May 5. Vogel reportedly interviewed with the Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks and Houston Rockets, but he ultimately chose the Magic because of a confluence of factors.

He said his quick bond with Hennigan, the Magic’s blossoming talent base and Orlando market size that reminded him of what he had been a part of the past nine years in Indianapolis as an assistant and a head coach led him to Orlando.

``They were as aggressive as you can be,’’ Vogel said of the Magic. ``They were picking up the pieces, so to speak, from the (Skiles’) resignation and they reached out to me and my representatives right away. There was some interest with me from other teams and (the Magic) really accelerated the entire process. They got the ball rolling right away.

``The simplest answer is that it was everything about the job,’’ said Vogel, referring to what the Magic had to offer. ``Starting with the roster and the young talent that they have and the readiness of the group, they’re not too young and they have a number of core guys who are entering their primes. That’s a dream for a coach and I just like the ability and potential of the roster.’’

Hennigan and Vogel joked about the fact that their separate rises to the NBA shared a common thread. Hennigan grew up in suburban Boston and played basketball at tiny Emerson College before breaking into the NBA as an intern and later as a scout. Vogel, a native of Wildwood Crest, N.J., played Division III basketball at Juniata College (Pa.) before transferring to the University of Kentucky so that he could be a student manager and video coordinator under Rick Pitino and Jim O’Brien. Those coaches took him along to the NBA where he worked as a video coordinator and later an assistant coach with the Celtics, 76ers and Pacers. In 2011, he took over as an interim head coach with the Pacers and he’s been a success in that role ever since.

``I felt like I had an immediate connection with Rob Hennigan, and once we spoke we realized that we were both in Boston during the same time,’’ Vogel said. ``We shared a common thread in terms of our leadership styles and the idea of organizational togetherness. Alex Martins was great, (Assistant GM) Scott Perry was great and the reputation of the DeVos family is unparalleled.’’

Vogel made his name in the NBA as a coach who has a tremendous understanding of how to develop strong defensive teams. In Indiana, his last five teams all finished in the NBA’s top-six in field-goal percentage allowed and all six of his teams were top-10 in total defensive efficiency.

Orlando made major strides in that department this past season en route to a promising 19-13 start. However, Orlando’s commitment on the defensive end of the floor dropped off at the start of 2016, leading to a disappointing 2-15 stretch in January and early February and a 16-34 finish that kept it out of the playoffs for a fourth straight year.

``I certainly believe in what we teach on the defensive end and our approach, but it’s got to come from our players, come from within and they’ve got to want it,’’ said Vogel, whose seventh-seeded Pacers pushed the second-seeded Toronto Raptors to a Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs before losing. ``We’ve had guys on our roster in Indianapolis who have enjoyed that (defensive) end of the floor. You want to make them enjoy (defense), enjoy the hard work and the reward in getting stop after stop after stop when your shots aren’t falling. We’ll do that (in Orlando) because I have confidence that this team has great athleticism and good speed and I believe that I can mold them into one of the better defensive units in the league.’’

One of the knocks on Vogel in Indiana was that his teams tended to play slow-down, grind-it-out offense. Bird wanted the Pacers playing faster and they did that this past season, going from 27th in the NBA to 12th in fastbreak points. Still, the Pacers ranked 24th and 23rd in offensive efficiency the past two seasons.

Playing fast shouldn’t be a problem in Orlando, Vogel said, because he wants to take advantage of the speed and athleticism of young players such as Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja. Vogel said he will happily adjust his style to fit the personnel in Orlando and he wants the Magic playing up-tempo basketball next season.

``I think this Magic team has really good speed and we can do it even better than we did in Indianapolis,’’ Vogel said. ``I think Aaron Gordon’s ability to play at the power forward position in today’s game gives you four guys who can push it and run and that’s incredibly valuable. That’s not even mentioning what Vic can do and what Elfrid can do. Evan can run and Hezonja’s ability to run the floor and have that electricity when he attacks the basket and finishes – I think this could be an exceptional running team and that’s the style that we’re going to play.

``We grinded it out a couple of years there in Indianapolis because that’s what the personnel dictated and the style of play that group needed to play with,’’ continued Vogel, who twice guided Indy teams to the Eastern Conference Finals. ``But I believe that this game is meant to be played in attack mode. And I really believe we have the speed and athleticism to do that with this (Magic) group.’’

On his way out of Indiana, Vogel was lauded by superstar small forward Paul George, who called the coach ``one of the most influential men in my life’’ in a post on Instagram that included a picture of the two of them arm-in-arm along the sidelines. Known for his big, toothy smile and his perpetually upbeat approach, Vogel said the power of positivity shapes much of his coaching approach. He’ll stay the same in Orlando, and he stressed that he’s extremely positive that the marriage between he and the Magic will be a great one for all involved.

``(The positivity) fits my personality because that’s who I am as a person,’’ Vogel said. ``Being around a coach like Rick (Pitino), it taught me that a player is going to be at his best when he believes in himself and when he’s shown confidence from his head coach. So I really believe in that style and it’s a big part of what we’ve accomplished in Indianapolis.

``When I researched Mr. (Rich) DeVos a little bit I saw that he had a book, ``Believe’’ and another book called ``Powerful Phrases of Positive People,’’ and that was just kind of like a sign for me,’’ Vogel continued. ``I feel like this is a situation that I was meant to be a part of. That’s definitely always been my approach and what I believe in.’’

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