(Editor’s note: Pistons.com begins its series on the makeup of new head coach Lawrence Frank’s staff of assistants with a look at Roy Rogers. Next: Dee Brown.)
When the fog of anesthesia lifted after the last knee surgery Roy Rogers endured, the nation’s most renowned orthopedic surgeon delivered the news that made his heart skip a beat.
“If you want to run around in the back yard with those little kids of yours,” Dr. James Andrews told the former Vancouver Grizzlies 1996 No. 1 pick, whose deteriorating knees carried him through four NBA stopovers and three European countries, “you better give it up.”
“I felt like my heart had been ripped out,” he says today, a member of Lawrence Frank’s first coaching staff with the Pistons. “I stopped counting (surgeries) at a dozen – both knees. I had degenerative arthritis. I was just trying to buy as much time as possible. Thirty years old and I had played basketball my entire life competitively and now, all of a sudden, here’s the best surgeon in the world telling you you’ve got to give it up. There were a lot of things I was expecting to hear when I woke up from that surgery, but that wasn’t one of them. That was a very tough day.”
A few months later, Rogers, forced to retire at 30, was about to embark on what he assumed would be the next phase of his life, when an epiphany caused a sudden 90-degree turn.
“I thought about opening up a real estate business and I was there one day in real estate class and I just remember thinking how much I missed the game,” Rogers said. “I felt I still had a lot to contribute. I knew I couldn’t play anymore, but I really wanted to teach the game. That was kind of the way it all started. I walked out that day and came home and told my wife, ‘You won’t believe what I’ve decided to do – coach.’ ”
That was the spring of 2004. That fall, Roy Rogers found himself as an assistant in the NBA D-League in his native Alabama, coaching the Huntsville Flight. The next season, he worked under ex-DePaul coach Joey Meyer with the Tulsa 66ers. Then the San Antonio Spurs bought their own D-League franchise in Austin, where Rogers spent the next two seasons.
That’s when his path first crossed that of Frank’s, who hired him before the 2008-09 season as an assistant with New Jersey. Their bond was quickly forged. Rogers finished out the year in New Jersey when Frank was fired early in the 2009-10 season, but followed him to Boston last season when Doc Rivers – who hired Frank to run his defense – was convinced by Frank that Rogers would be the ideal candidate to fill the last vacancy on his Celtics staff, working with Boston’s big men.
And when Joe Dumars hired Frank to coach the Pistons over the summer, there was little doubt in Rogers’ mind that he would come to Detroit if Frank asked.
“Doc was great; the Celtics were great,” Rogers said. “They treated me extremely well – a first-class organization. I learned a lot from Doc, from Danny (Ainge), from all of those guys. But Lawrence and I have a bond. We have a special relationship. I knew the situation he was coming into and I wanted to come in and work with him.”
Frank wants his coaches to be versed in every aspect of coaching, but also will assign each member specific duties. Rogers will work with Pistons big men and, during games, he will keep Frank attuned to player combination usages and be in charge of what Frank calls “special teams” – plays to start and end quarters and out of timeouts, two-for-one situations to end quarters and free-throw situations at both ends of the court among them.
“Roy will track all of that, plus he tracks also the hardest chart and probably the most valuable chart for me,” Frank said. “It’s a postgame chart – a defensive report card, a defensive accountability chart for each player. It’s the good and the bad and it’s very much indicative of whether we win or lose games, from middle drives given up to blow bys given up to syncs to missed syncs to blockouts to no blockouts to contested shots to uncontested shots to getting back on defense, deflections, missed helps, helps – everything.”
Frank put Rogers through one of his “working interviews” for his Nets job and soon became impressed with Rogers’ willingness to roll up his sleeves.
“He was a guy who was willing to go through the grind of coaching,” said Frank, a young assistant at Tennessee when Rogers played for SEC rival Alabama. “He was in the D-League and not doing it for monetary reasons. I respected the fact that he was willing to pay his dues.”
“What benefitted me was having the opportunity to work in the minor leagues,” Rogers said. “I had some really good head coaches. My first coach was Ralph Lewis, who was an assistant with the Charlotte Bobcats and gave me a lot of responsibilities from day one – everything from driving the van to pick players up at the airport to preparing scouting reports. When I got to the NBA, I felt like I belonged. I felt like I was prepared from my time in the D-League. Those four years … I wouldn’t be here today without those years I spent in the minor leagues.”
Frank says Rogers walks the fine line well – pushes players yet wins their confidence and their favor.
“He has high, high character, great work ethic, a very good teacher,” Frank said. “He’s a guy who has good balance – good intensity and also a very good way with the players. He understands how to challenge but also connect. I think he has a great future.”
Rogers, in turn, believes the Pistons struck gold by hiring Frank.
“I’m a little biased,” he said, “but there won’t be a coach who will work harder to have his team prepared than Lawrence Frank. The guy has a relentless work ethic and he is extremely passionate about the players, about the game, about the organization and about the fans.”