When Frank Vogel took the reins of the Indiana Pacers in the dead of winter in 2011, the team was mired in a swirl of indecision and mediocre performances that had plagued them for half a decade. Indiana was caught in the no-man's land of the NBA, losing just enough to miss the playoffs each year, but winning just enough to miss out on the lottery pick in each summer's draft. With Vogel's fiery approach, the Pacers seemed to steady and eventually made it back to the playoffs, where they were promptly eliminated by the Chicago Bulls. Even so, Vogel was saddled with the "interim" tag for much of the off-season, and there was a good deal of uncertainty about whether he would land the gig full-time. After a fairly exhaustive interview process, team president Larry Bird did eventually settle on Vogel, who managed to keep the goodwill rolling this season. There have been some mixed results for the young Pacers in 2012, but I have been impressed with the new coach overall, and I am apparently not alone in that view. On May 1, Vogel finished third in the voting for NBA Coach of the Year honors after guiding Indiana to the third seed in the 2012 playoffs.
Really, given the landscape and the state of the teams involved, third is about as high as Vogel could have hoped to finish in this balloting. This was the year, after all, that Bird had always told us was the Pacers' golden opportunity for improvement. With big contracts coming off the board, Indiana added George Hill and David West and then picked up Kyrylo Fesenko and Leandro Barbosa during the season. In other words, the Pacers were expected to improve, and they did, though nabbing home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs was a major step forward, and Vogel has to get some credit for that.
The guys who finished ahead of Vogel in the voting, though, probably have more compelling cases. Tom Thibodeau's Chicago Bulls fashioned the best record in the NBA despite the fact that their megawatt star guard, Derrick Rose, missed 27 games. Out west, the San Antonio Spurs matched the Bulls win-for-win to walk away with the first seed, despite the fact that 21 different players turned in court time for them in 2012. For getting a team led by the aging Tim Duncan and Tony Parker's 18.3 points per game into a position to make a run for an NBA title, Popovich rightly beat out Thibodeau and Vogel for top coach honors.
Nevertheless, Frank Vogel has been a real "find" for the Pacers, who first turned to him in a moment of weakness. A coach that had all the earmarks of becoming an easy scapegoat has proven himself to be the cog of an up-and-coming team, and I don't think we could have asked for more.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Pacers fan since the early 1980s and has witnessed the rise and fall of a great NBA franchise. He follows the current club closely and is happy to see the Pacers begin their next ascent.