Frank Vogel: "We're Going to Win"

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

By John Denton
May 23, 2016

ORLANDO – Hired specifically to help the Orlando Magic maximize the potential of a young, blossoming roster and end the franchise’s four-year playoff drought, head coach Frank Vogel didn’t shy away from those lofty expectations in Monday’s introductory news conference.

``We’re going to win, and it’s that simple,’’ Vogel said with conviction. ``We’re going to go out and work our tails off, instill discipline and inspire our guys … and we’re going to win games. Obviously, this group hasn’t been to the playoffs, but if you want to look for a bar where we’re going to set the standard for our goals, we’re going to get in the playoffs this year. We’re going to start there.’’

Vogel is no stranger to the playoffs, guiding the Indiana Pacers to the playoffs five times in his nearly six years as the coach there. Within a week’s time earlier this month, Vogel’s contract wasn’t renewed in Indiana and Orlando’s job became available when Scott Skiles resigned as head coach, creating an opportunity for the marriage between Vogel, 42, and the Magic.

Orlando speeded up its hiring process because Memphis, New York and Houston also had coaching vacancies and Vogel is widely considered to be the most attractive candidate on the market. The two sides worked quickly to come to an agreement and on Monday the Magic happily introduced the infectiously positive Vogel as their 13th coach in franchise history.

``No departure is fun, but I’m a firm believer that when one door closes another one opens,’’ said Magic CEO Alex Martins, referring to Skiles’ resignation on May 12. ``Sometimes an even better one can open, and we believe that can be the case here. As the door closed on Scott’s short tenure here another one opened that allowed us to attract a coach of Frank’s caliber and success. It opens a door that could allow us to be a lot more successful.’’

Vogel was 250-181 in 5 ½ regular seasons in Indiana and 31-30 in the playoffs with two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals. He guided the Pacers to the playoffs in 2011 as an interim coach and got them there every year other than the one that superstar forward Paul George missed (2014-15) while recovering from a serious leg injury.

Vogel, who learned the coaching ropes at a young age from Rick Pitino while at the University of Kentucky and in the NBA with the Boston Celtics, believes wholeheartedly in having confidence and instilling it in others. He has gotten to the position he’s in now by believing in hard work and teaching the game the right way, so he sees no reason in not having high expectations for the Magic right away.

``I believe in what I do and my ability to tie all the strings together and I believe in the talent that we have here,’’ he said. ``Combine that with the flexibility that we have to make additions – and I do believe that we are going to make some real, quality additions – that makes me confident that we’re going to have success.’’

Martins said it was telling of the Magic’s reputation that Vogel chose Orlando over other teams such as Memphis and Houston that already have made the playoffs this season. Martins also likes that Vogel is talking big in terms of winning, knowing that all the pieces are in place now for the Magic to take the next step next season.

``We believe him and it’s exactly what we feel,’’ Martins said of Vogel’s playoff predictions. ``We feel like we were on that path before and now to add his experience of having been to the playoffs five of the last six years and to the Eastern Conference Finals twice in the past six years, it’s one of those pieces that we’ve talked about – in addition to getting some more veteran players – to telling our young players how to get there who have never been there. We want to transition our players from not having been to the playoffs to regularly being in the playoffs.’’

Magic standouts Evan Fournier and Victor Oladipo were at the team’s practice facility on Monday morning when Vogel arrived and they both attended the coach’s introductory news conference. Fournier is friends with fellow Frenchman Ian Mahinimi and Oladipo is close with George – two players who were standouts in Indiana – to get some insider knowledge on their new coach. Both are extremely excited about playing for Vogel in Orlando.

``It was never easy to play against his teams in Indiana and it was always a pain to play the Pacers being very aggressive and a defensive-minded team,’’ said Fournier, a restricted free agent who expects to return net season. ``You knew coming in that it was always going to be a tough game (against Vogel’s Indiana teams), so if we can be that team now it will be perfect.’’

Added Oladipo: ``It’s huge for us that he would pick us. It says a lot about him and it says a lot about our roster, how he views us and where he thinks we can go. I’m looking forward to playing for him and I think it’s going to be a great journey. He’s been successful and he expects nothing less here, so we’ve got to catch up to him and have that high demand of ourselves.’’

Vogel said he didn’t feel inclined to talk to Skiles about his reasons for leaving the bench following just one season in Orlando because ``every relationship works differently.’’ He noted that he and GM Rob Hennigan hit it off immediately because they think similarly in the practice of building a consensus among the group in terms of decision-making.

``My confidence level picked up speed as the process went along,’’ said Vogel, who talked on the phone with Hennigan for some two hours before meeting the DeVos ownership family, Martins and Hennigan in Grand Rapids, Mich., early last week. ``I was comfortable in the first 15 minutes and then when we were an hour into it I was really excited. Then, once we got two hours into it, it was feeling like, `this is the spot for me.’ It was that accelerated and that quick.’’

Orlando is one of just five NBA teams to improve its record each of the last three years, and the Magic finished 35-47 this past season for a 10-win improvement. Vogel sees the Magic being on the same trajectory as the one he coached in Indianapolis when the Pacers went from 37 wins in 2010-11 to 49 in 2012-13 and 56 in 2013-14.

With a solid, young core of Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Mario Hezonja, Fournier and Oladipo, Vogel sees now reason why the Magic shouldn’t be looked as a team about to make a huge jump next season.

``The roster here was very, very attractive to me,’’ he said. ``I really see a lot of similarities to this team that I saw with the team that we took over in Indiana. That team had Lance Stephenson, Paul George and Roy Hibbert and it was still trying to find its way to get over that hump, but it then became a monster in the East. I see that similarity there.’’

Vogel also likes that the Magic have been judicious in their spending in recent years, meaning the team has flexibility with which to pursue free agents this offseason. Orlando could potentially have as much as $45 million in cap space with which to offer free agents. That’s a good thing because Vogel sees one area in particular where the Magic certainly could use an upgrade for the style that he wants to play with rugged defense and an up-tempo offense.

``We need tough guys who are leaders,’’ he said bluntly. ``Bringing in a guy who has a presence about him that younger players will respect, both with his voice and his approach and his ability to kick some tail on the court, that’s important. We’ll be looking for that guy who has the experience who can lead in the locker room and with his play as well.’’

Vogel and wife, Jennifer, have 12- and 10-year-old daughters, and the temptation was there for him to take a year off from coaching to have more family time. But the Magic job was too good to pass up, Vogel said, because it ``checked all the boxes’’ for him.

Knowing that he will be working with a talented roster and for an ownership and a management group that supports him also brought a great sense of relief for Vogel. Scheduled to be back in Orlando on Wednesday after a short return trip back to Indiana, Vogel said he can’t wait to start building a coaching staff, building relationships with the players on the roster and setting the stage for the Magic to win big next season.

``It’s been a really crazy time – probably the craziest two weeks of my life just from the emotions of being let go by the Pacers to figuring out what the next step was,’’ Vogel said. ``But the phone was ringing and that was a good thing. It was a good kind of chaos and I enjoyed meeting with some of the other teams that I met with.

``Ultimately, finding this situation here and everything aligning for what I was looking for with my family and my career, that part of it made it an enjoyable time as opposed to a stressful time,’’ he added. ``Knowing that I was going to have a job like this was one of the options and then getting it was a very exciting thing for me. So we’re excited to be down here.’’

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