‘A Great Hire’
Former IU assistant Dakich a big believer in Pistons’ hiring of Frank
When the New Jersey Nets elevated an unknown 33-year-old, fuzzy-cheeked assistant to head coach eight years ago, taking over a team that had played in the two most recent NBA Finals, Dan Dakich’s wife turned to him and said, “Look who’s the new head coach of the Nets. He’s going to do really well, won’t he?”
“Yup,” Dakich said. “He’ll do great.”
They might have been two of the few who believed a guy that young, who looks as unimposing as the diminutive Frank, who didn’t have an NBA or college playing career to prop up his image, had even a remote chance to last long in the shark-infested NBA pool.
“For an NBA guy to look at his pedigree, student manager at Indiana doesn’t really cut it,” said Dakich, the former IU assistant to Bobby Knight who was the point man in helping Frank earn a spot fetching basketballs for Hoosier stars when he arrived on campus from Teaneck, N.J., his college destination chosen specifically to prepare him for a career in coaching.
“But because of his knowledge, his work ethic and then his personality, he’ll win his players over,” said Dakich, former Bowling Green head coach and now a radio personality in Indianapolis. “He’s a got a great sense of humor, a self-deprecating sense of humor. He knows who he is and isn’t trying to be somebody he’s not. Players will recognize and respect that.”
There would be 15 student managers or more a year at Indiana, and Dakich said some would throw themselves into the position and soak up as much responsibility as Knight’s staff would grant them, while others were merely happy to be associated with what at the time was one of the college basketball’s top five programs. Frank was on the far end of the spectrum. Everything they asked him to do, he did – but they didn’t have to ask much of him. He was always one step ahead of the request.
“He would work really hard and he was smart,” Dakich said. “When you wanted something done, he understood. For a guy to come to Indiana, some guys get intimidated, some get nervous, but Lawrence was just a guy who came and wanted to work and had a really bright mind for basketball.”
After four years, Knight and Dakich helped Frank land a spot with Marquette coach Kevin O’Neill as a graduate assistant. When O’Neill left to go to Tennessee, he took Frank with him as a full-time assistant.
Dakich and Frank remained close, Dakich often calling Frank to talk for an hour or more as he drove back to Bloomington or Frank was on the road to Knoxville from a recruiting trip.
“He didn’t have a life,” Dakich laughed. “He just worked hard, had a great sense of humor, a terrific guy with a very good basketball mind. That combination of things usually leads to success.”
Dakich thinks the Pistons are getting the perfect coach at the right time – for both Frank and the franchise – for a few reasons: the transition to a younger team the Pistons are executing, and the perspective Frank has gained since leaving New Jersey early in the 2009-10 season.
“I think the Pistons now have a direction they’re headed in after a couple of years of still playing some of the other guys and trying to win now. Now there’s a clear direction. There are some guys as coaches that aren’t going to be loyal to that process. I’m sure Joe (Dumars) painted the picture of exactly where they want this to head and Lawrence Frank is nothing if not completely loyal.
“He will be loyal to that process. He does not have an ego. He won’t say, ‘Sign this guy because we can win five more games.’ Maybe to a fault, this guy is loyal. I know a lot of people say of public figures, ‘This guy is loyal.’ Lawrence is the most. He’s more loyal to his bosses, and to the process he will undertake, than anybody I know.”
Dakich, who has coached a talented AAU team made up of Ohio and Indiana players since stepping down at Bowling Green in 2007, said Frank will return as a significantly better NBA head coach for the perspective he’s gained since leaving New Jersey.
“I believe that 100 percent,” Dakich said. “I’ve been out of coaching three years and I know if I went back, I would be about a 50 percent better coach having stepped away and observed. You better have some players in the NBA, but in terms of Lawrence and how he will be, I don’t think there will be any doubt.”
Frank has talked about his need to delegate more than he did as a first-time head coach with the Nets. Dakich thinks he’ll do that, but he also fully understands why he might have been more reluctant in the past to hand off responsibility to his staff.
“It’s hard for guys who are spectacular teachers to delegate because others, quite frankly, aren’t as good as you and you have a passion for it,” Dakich said. “You have passion, drive, and teaching is what you do. But he’ll be so much better. I can speak from experience. He will be much more comfortable.”
Dakich recalled having lunch with Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown – on the bench when the Pistons won the 2004 title, which included a second-round series win over New Jersey that took seven games – in which Brown told him how he “intimidated” players.
“He said you intimidate them with your words, with your knowledge and your personality, and that’s exactly what Lawrence does,” Dakich said. “I’m not saying he’s intimidating; I’m saying he gets them to play based on his knowledge, his intelligence, his work ethic and his personality. I don’t think that personality part can be overstated. So many times people write about an NBA coach and talk about his Xs and Os, but what he was able to do in New Jersey, the personality that he has about himself, is really important with Lawrence. It’s a great hire for the Pistons.”