Frank Vogel Focused on Building Back Team's Confidence

By John Denton
Nov. 21, 2017

ORLANDO – Frank Vogel learned long ago – when he was first a video coordinator, again when he was a behind-the-scenes assistant coach and also when he got his first head coaching gig under adverse circumstances – that there is so much more to leading a basketball team than simply diagraming Xs and Os.

As a NBA head coach, Vogel is well aware that he must be as much a psychiatrist as a strategist, be a cheerleader at times and a drill sergeant at others and have the flexibility to be both light-hearted and heavy-handed when need be. Often, the job requires him being more proactive than reactive and he must respond quickly to the mood of a team and bounce back and forth between the many roles.

Just as Vogel preached to his Orlando Magic about not getting too high following their heady 6-2 start to the season, the coach is now working overtime to remind the squad that there is still plenty of season left after a puzzling 2-7 skid that has included a five-game losing streak. Vogel knows that the confidence of his team has been rattled and it’s now part of his job – make that a major part of his job – to rebuild the squad’s swagger.

``That’s a big part of the job, especially in times like this,’’ said Vogel, whose Magic (8-9) begin another lengthy road trip against the Minnesota Timberwolves (10-7) on Wednesday night. ``We’re doing the right thing – keeping our guys confident, keeping them moving in the right direction and keeping them understanding that winning is hard in this league, especially when you haven’t done it as a group. Thankfully, we built a little bit of a cushion early in the season and now we’ve got to keep our heads above water in this tough stretch of the schedule.’’

Vogel, a native of South New Jersey and a fan of all sports things that are tied to the Philadelphia area, recently reached into his bag of tricks for motivational purposes. Much to the surprise of his players, Vogel recently spliced in scenes from ``Rocky’’ into game footage watched by the team. Just as he’s searching for answers as to why the Magic stop moving the ball at times and why their defense has lagged of late, Vogel is also looking for ways to show his team how to keep fighting through tough times.

``You keep everybody lifted and engaged, make sure their attitudes are in the right place and address frustration,’’ Vogel said, seemingly checking boxes on a coach’s to-do list before flashing his humorous side. ``And you have to make sure that nobody is on the roof of the Amway Center and ready to jump off. We’re not in a hopeless situation.’’

Magic point guard Elfrid Payton, who is in his second season of playing for Vogel, is someone who has a close enough relationship with the head coach that he is allowed to call offensive sets at times during games. Payton is a big fan of how his head coach balances remaining positive while also holding the team accountable.

``Obviously, he knows when to get on us and fuss at us, but he’s very encouraging and positive because he knows what this team can do and the talent that we have,’’ Payton said. ``Frank has a lot of different ways (of motivating) by talking to us, showing us clips from movies and a lot of other ways to continue to motivate us.

``He’s done some ``Rocky’’ this year and (used) some quotes,’’ Payton elaborated. ``He’s just telling us to remain positive and that he trusts us and believes in us – that’s all you can ask for from a coach.’’

What Vogel is asking for now from the Magic is better care with the ball, better resistance defensively and better attention to detail as it relates to the offense’s ball movement. All of those things were factors on Monday when Orlando fell 105-97 to the Indiana Pacers. The Magic shot the ball well early, but they turned it over too often. In the second half, the offense bogged down badly and there were defensive lapses where shooters such as Bojan Bogdanovic (24 of 26 points in the second half) were left open.

When the smoke cleared on a fifth consecutive defeat – and a second straight one at home – the Magic had turned the ball over 22 times, shot just 41.7 percent from the floor and allowed Indiana to hit eight 3-pointers and score 26 points off turnovers.

Those numbers – and many others of late – pale in comparison to the way the team was playing just three weeks earlier when it notched a couple of impressive routs and gutted out tough wins on the road. During its stellar 6-2 start, Orlando averaged 114.9 points and 25.2 assists a game while shooting 48.9 percent from the floor and 44.2 percent from 3-point range. In the nine games since, the Magic offense has mustered 99.3 points and 22.8 assists on 44.2 percent shooting and 34.1 percent accuracy from 3-point range.

That sudden about-face has tested the Magic’s mettle as a team capable of handling success and battling through adversity.

``It’s about being tougher. That (toughness) is within the heart,’’ reserve guard Jonathon Simmons said. ``We just have to come together, stay together as a team and (know) it’s a long season. We have to move forward and get it together.’’

Simmons, who has averaged 14.4 points per game while shooting percent from the floor, came from a culture of winning after playing for the San Antonio Spurs the previous two seasons. He has tried to be more vocal with teammates to keep their spirits up, but he said at the end of the day that actions speak louder than words.

``I’m speaking up, but it’s more about what you do,’’ Simmons said. ``You can do all the talking that we want to do, but if you don’t put forth the effort, then the talk comes down to just being (garbage).’’

The Magic have hit hard times as their schedule has grown teeth. They spent much of last week on the road, winning in Phoenix and then dropping the final three games against Denver, Golden State and Portland. After faltering in home games against Utah and Indiana, Orlando is starting a four-game, seven-night trip with games in Minnesota (Wednesday), Boston (Friday), Philadelphia (Saturday) and Indiana (Monday). During this three-week stretch, the Magic will have eight of 10 games and 15 of 20 days – including the Thanksgiving holiday – away from home and on the road.

The difficult stretch and taxing times are testing Vogel’s powers as a motivator and an encourager, as a tactician and a clinician and as someone who must be both supportive and firm to the Magic players. He knows full well that managing players’ heads and hearts is as much a part of the job as the Xs and Os and substitution patterns during games.

``It’s just me relying on my natural instinct, quite frankly,’’ said Vogel of his motivational manner. ``It’s about being an optimist and a believer, especially as it applies to the guys that we have here.’’

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