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SAN FRANCISCO – Being bigger was better in the NBA for Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing when he dominated the post with dunks and blocks. But he says being bigger could be hurting his chances of landing an NBA head coaching job after years of paying dues.
"There probably is a big man perception," Ewing told Yahoo Sports. "They think that all guards are the best thing. It's a guard-oriented league right now, but it is what it is."
Ewing has been an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards, Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic and Charlotte Bobcats over the course of 10 seasons. He has worked with the likes of Yao Ming, Dwight Howard and now Al Jefferson. The former New York Knicks center and top pick in the 1985 NBA draft currently is a first-year Bobcats associate head coach under head coach Steve Clifford. The Knicks' all-time leader in scoring, rebounding, blocks and steals also has played for notable coaches such as Pat Riley, Rick Pitino, John Thompson, Hubie Brown, Don Nelson, Jeff Van Gundy, Doc Rivers and Nate McMillan.
Ewing interviewed for head coaching jobs with the Bobcats in 2012 and Detroit Pistons in 2011. At age 51, his playing and coaching experience have still left him a bridesmaid in the NBA head coaching ranks.
"A lot of guys don't want to do all the work," Clifford said after shootaround for Tuesday night's game at Golden State. "He's done the opposite. He does everything. Anything anyone else did, he did. He wants to be a good coach. He's paid his dues."
Jefferson said Ewing has made him a better player with the Bobcats by emphasizing defense and he is impressed by his presence and humility.
"Sometimes you kind of forget you're walking around with a Hall of Famer, especially in New York," Jefferson said. "People there still love him and go crazy over him. Just talking to him you wouldn't know he was a Hall of Famer. You'd think he's just a regular guy. He would be a great head coach."
The NBA's current head coaches consist of 13 former NBA guards, one swingman, three forwards, 13 who never played in the league and zero centers. The closest NBA coach to a former center is Houston's Kevin McHale, a Hall of Fame power forward. None of the top 10 winningest NBA head coaches were true centers.
"A lot think that bigger guys, for whatever reason, are [less regarded]. A lot of people say that," Clifford said.
Hall of Famer center Bill Russell had a 341-290 coaching record with two championships, but had a forgettable ending with the Sacramento Kings. The last former NBA center to be a head coach was Kim Hughes, who was an interim coach with the Los Angeles Clippers for 33 games during the 2009-10 season.
Hall of Fame center Dan Issel had a 180-208 record as head coach of the Denver Nuggets in six seasons. Issel said he understands why guards get most of the coaching jobs.
"A point guard, I guess any guard, would probably be more aware with what is happening on the entire floor, the entire flow of the game," Issel said. "Whereas big guys their entire careers are probably more consumed with what's going on inside. It does have some validity."
Four current NBA head coaches with no prior experience include McHale, Rivers, Mark Jackson and most recently Jason Kidd, who was hired by the Brooklyn Nets after retiring last offseason. Other Hall of Famers who got head coaching jobs with no prior coaching experience include Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas.
Ewing showed no bitterness toward those landing head coaching jobs with no experience.
"Mark has always shown he knew the game. He's a very good coach," said Ewing, who played with Jackson in New York. "J-Kidd got an opportunity to coach and he's shown he can be a very good coach. All it takes is someone to believe in you. One day I'll have the opportunity."
Ewing was a head coach for one NBA game on Nov. 8 against, yes, the Knicks. It was under tough circumstances as Clifford missed the game after undergoing a procedure earlier in the day to have two stents placed in his heart. The Knicks won, 101-91, in Charlotte.
"It was a great experience," Ewing said. "At first I was nervous being that I was coaching against the Knicks of all teams. The first team I have to coach against was my former team? Once the game started, I calmed down and did what was natural.
"The [assistant coaches] on the bench helped a great deal. It just helped me know and feel that I am ready. I always knew I wanted to do this. Why not strive to be the man? I've been the man for most of the time I've played, so why not?"
Ewing was offered a head coach job with the Knicks' NBA Development League affiliate Erie, but turned it down. "I didn't take it as any insult," Ewing said. "I didn't want to be in the D-League. I want to be in the big league."
Ewing said if given the chance to be an NBA coach he'd be defensive-minded like most of his predecessors. When asked how much longer he'll pursue the big gig, Ewing said, "I'm working on it. But I'm happy with it. I'm happy where I am in my life."