April 28, 2011
Interim coaches typically make little impact on their teams, merely acting as placeholders and stewards until the next great handpicked leader of men can ride into town on a steel horse and lead a marginally improved roster to four more wins per seasons. Then he gets fired and the whole process repeats itself for several more turns. Welcome to the NBA!
Frank Vogel of the Indiana Pacers, however, was no typical interim coach. After taking over for Jim O'Brien at the end of January, Vogel guided the Pacers to a 20-18 record and a surprise spot in the playoffs. And while they only won one game against the Bulls in the first round, they put up a good fight and exceeded expectations by forcing the Bulls into several late-game comebacks.
So it stands to reason that Vogel and the Pacers would like to remove the "interim" tag from his title. And that is exactly what's likely to happen soon. From Cliff Brunt of the Associated Press:
"One thing I learned the last three months is that I can do this," he said. "I'm confident in my leadership abilities, my management abilities, my coaching abilities. It's been an honor to coach the last few months, it would be an honor to coach in the future."
Team president Larry Bird was impressed with Vogel's performance. He said the 37-year-old would get the first interview for the head coaching position.
"I think Frank did an excellent job, stepping in without the experience of a head coaching job," Bird said. "The way he conducted himself, he brought positive energy to this team. We won more games than we lost. We did it with a young team, a team that's trying to grow."
The mood around the team quickly changed when Vogel stepped in. Early in his tenure, he claimed that Eastern Conference powers Boston, Miami and Orlando wouldn't want to play the Pacers when — not if — they make the playoffs. He said the talent to win big already existed on the roster, and he told leery Pacers fans to hop on the bandwagon. That confidence earned the respect of the players.
All parties want this to happen -- Vogel, the front office, the players, and the fans -- which means a deal will almost certainly get done soon. Vogel deserves it, too. He made the Pacers relevant and exciting again when they had been punchlines for several seasons. That's no small feat.
However, it's important to note that Vogel is also a free agent. If a deal doesn't get done soon, it's possible to imagine another team with a vacancy -- like, say, the Rockets or Warriors -- making a gigantic offer for Vogel's services. That might be seen as poor form, considering the Pacers are Vogel's team right now, but no one ever said finding a good coach was a moral pursuit.
Yet that course of events would be unlikely. Expect Vogel on the sidelines next season and several more.