Coach Mac Is Back

Kevin McHale returns to head coaching duties tonight against Dallas
by Jason Friedman Writer/Reporter

HOUSTON - Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale has returned to the team and will be back on the bench to lead his club tonight against the Dallas Mavericks.

Saturday’s Southwest Division showdown will be McHale’s first on the sideline since taking a leave of absence beginning November 10 to return to Minnesota to be with his ailing daughter Sasha, who passed away on November 24.

Prior to tonight’s game, McHale met with the Houston media to discuss his return. What follows is a transcript of that session:

KM: It feels good to be back. I’ve been gone for a pretty long time and I’m going to rely on the players to make plays and the coaches to help me out. It’s been awhile but hopefully it’s the right time. I don’t know if there is a right time. I don’t think there is a playbook for this but I’m excited to be back.  

How helpful is it to be in this environment right now?

KM: I’ll find out. Like I said, it’s been, needless to say, a terrible month, but it just felt like the time to come back, get back to work and be around the guys.

What do you think about the job Kelvin Sampson did?

KM: I think Kelvin did a tremendous job, he really did. I left after the Memphis game; we went up there and got beat up pretty good by Memphis. We had it to a two-point game for awhile but they exposed some stuff. I talked to Kelvin and the coaching staff about trying to do some other things and I thought they did a great job of implementing that.

With a new team and a bunch of new guys, your first 20 games, I feel bad I wasn’t around to be here and help with the guys because everything works on the whiteboard when you’re drawing stuff up and then a lot of stuff works in the exhibition season, but then the regular season starts and you’re like, ‘Boy, this doesn’t work as good as I thought it would. We’re going to have to do this or do that.’ So there were a ton of adjustments to be made and I thought they did a really good job.

Why is this the right time to return?

KM: I have no idea. Are you kidding me? I have no idea.

Watching from afar, how do you think the guys have been performing?

KM: They’ve played hard. They do. Last night San Antonio put it on us pretty hard but the guys are battling. The win we had against the Lakers was an amazing win. That just felt like there was no chance we were going to win that game. They just battle hard. We are a young group of guys and we as a group of coaches are still trying to figure out exactly how to fit everybody in and put them all together. Then inside of that, you have Carlos miss six or seven games with his groin – there’s just always stuff that is happening in the NBA. When you’ve been together for a while, you just kind of fall into a rhythm as a team; we’re still trying to figure a lot of that stuff out.

But you ask me what I’ve been impressed with, I think Greg Smith. He had that foot injury and hurt his foot a little bit, but he came back. We’ve got a lot of young guys who are playing very well. It’s just, with young guys, there’s a little bit more of up and down.

How much did it help you to stay in touch and talk to Kelvin Sampson every day?

KM: It always did (help) but that’s hard. I don’t want to get into that whole thing, but it was hard just because your mind is a million miles away but you’re still watching the games and you’re stilling pulling for the guys so hard and you want them to win and you literally just ache with every loss and rejoice with every win and it’s really fun. But it’s just different. We just would talk basketball and a lot of times that hour of the day was sometimes the best part of the day.

Were you able to be engaged in basketball given everything that was going on?

KM: You know what, I don’t want to go over that. I was engaged as much as I could be.

The resilience you saw in this young team going through all the ups and downs?

KM: Again, they’re good kids and they work hard. If they’ll do that and continue to do that that always gives you a chance. This league is so misunderstood from so many people who look at it. Yes, it’s a talented league, but it’s a blue collar, workmanlike league. It’s 82 games, man, and it’s a grind. Our guys have proven that they’re going to grind and that’s a trait that not everybody has but if you have it as a team you can build from that.

You’re close with Dallas coach Rick Carlisle – how supportive have people from around the league been?

KM: I’ve had support from a lot of people. That’s been tremendous. I had a lot of guys I didn’t know that well who really reached out and I spent a lot of time really talking to them. It’s just a terrible situation; to even think about the whole thing it’s incomprehensible. But (the support) meant a lot. I’ve known Rick since we were kids and so it’s good to see him and good to talk to him.