Mark Cuban: 'Hiring a coach is the hardest job in professional sports'

Rick Carlisle lets Mark Cuban stay in the game. (Getty Images)
Rick Carlisle lets Mark Cuban stay in the game. (Getty Images)

In his 16-year NBA career, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has hired two coaches: Avery Johnson, and Rick Carlisle.

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Cuban isn’t alone among 30 NBA team owners in hoping that he’ll never have to hire a new head coach again, but for more secured reasons than most of those other el jefes: Carlisle is an NBA champion and former Coach of the Year that has worked in the playoffs in all but two of the 15 seasons he’d coached prior to 2016-17. He’s also the head of the NBA’s Coaches Association, a former champion as a player with the Celtics, and about as good as NBA head coaches get.

That’s saying a lot, considering how many great head coaches are out there. Cuban’s happy to have snared his:

 “I’ve said a million times, hiring a coach is the hardest job in professional sports,” Cuban said. “And we got lucky; we’ve got a good one.”

Yep. It’s a good time to remember just how tough this is, for everyone involved, to work through the coaching carousel.

And it’s a good time to remind ourselves that we’re going to make it.

Unless the Sacramento Kings surprise us again or an attention-seeking Phil Jackson freaks out over a lapse in features penned in his honor, the NBA is going to make it out of the 2016-17 season without firing a coach. In a league that employs professionals by the thousands, even losing zero out of just 30 coaches ranks as a milestone – the NBA hasn’t seen a season-long run like this in its history, and certainly nothing since the participatory count has jumped.

With the move to 22 teams in 1976 and 30 by 2005, squad owners couldn’t help but be encouraged to fire coaches as a quick fix. The trend stands even in recent years, with some coaches making as much as or more than the league’s average player.

To the tempestuous owner, general manager and/or fan, too many millions could be gained or lost by keeping just one individual in the fold. To the outsider-in-chief, the idea of a single employee (that isn’t a beloved player) affecting thousands is just too much to bear. Toss in frustrations surrounding certain late-game lineups or a coach’s seeming inability to reach the kid that the GM drafted with the fourth overall pick just two years ago, and you have a “hot-seat.”

That’s what the teams keep telling themselves, at least, when they fire these guys. Through 2016-17, though, nobody’s been fired yet; in ways that have hardly gone unnoticed by those following the league dating back to fall. The last time we got this close, the season started with John Kennedy as president, and the NBA only included nine teams.

Rick Carlisle, speaking out of Dallas as both the team’s head coach and president of the NBA’s Coaches Association, probably noticed before last week. He couldn’t help but notice not just because of all the notice-filled columns written about the “feat,” but because he’s ahead of most of us in noticing that the NBA’s coaches are often the best part of the NBA’s game:

”I’m obviously a big fan of all the guys that coach in this league,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who also serves as president of the National Basketball Coaches Association. ”I know them all well. They’ve all earned their positions. And this league should be a stable league.”

This isn’t preening hyperbole from another strand of outsider: the NBA’s coaches are as good as anything in this league.

Rick Carlisle and Mark Cuban in the White House. (Getty Images)
Rick Carlisle and Mark Cuban in the White House. (Getty Images)

This is forever a player’s league, but the players aren’t the ones that have to bow down to the conceit of acting as if every business trip to Orlando should be treated as a one-game play-in for the NBA title. It just doesn’t work that way, especially when you’re charged with hurling a ball at a ten-foot goal just 24 hours after you had to do the same thing a few counties over in Miami. Players can, understandably, go through the motions in front of the cameras in ways that the coaches cannot.

NBA coaches, while not immune to the mitigating roadblocks that their day-to-day profession presents, tend to mostly rise above this (with hilarious exceptions). Partially because they’re older, sometimes twice or even three times as old as their players, and partially because they are asked to do less, physically, after rolling out of a hotel’s nap-ready confines.

Mostly, though, these coaches rise above because they are so adaptive while attempting to execute. Something about that job security, some might note. Others might just nod to how great some of them are.

Comparing the league’s 30 available coaching slots to the 30 available starting point guard slots (Carlisle’s Mavs lead the league this year in starting five different PGs) is daft, as coaches aren’t pinned with a ten-year (at best) window to start at this league’s quickest position. Both positions have to stay three steps ahead of the anticipation to the anticipation, though, we it comes to preparing for what an opponent has prepared for them.

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From there, we get to the classic (if rarely helpful) point guard vs. coaches duel that just as often finds history giving the nod to the 20-something player over the obstinate and older head coach. The point guard isn’t exactly rolling the ball out there, either, so why shouldn’t that player’s system receive as much backing as his coach’s?

These reactions hardly take away from what we’ve noticed about this league, dating to the first Steve Kelley thinkpieces about “Jack Ramsay, Players or System” from the late 1970s.

It will be remarkably tough to cast a personal vote, however unofficial, for the 2017 NBA MVP. The voters for Coach of the Year have this sort of struggle every year. Every season the candidate list for Coach of the Year nearly runs two-figures deep, and yet every season it feels as if the other 20 NBA coaches left off that list are due to start leasing a car and renting a condo rather than settling in for a long career in one city that usually finds its happy ending in the form of a street named in a coach’s honor.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich probably wouldn’t even show up for that ceremony. Not just  because he’s a celebrated grump, but because Gregg Popovich deserves a little more than two-way action at this point in his career.

He was hired, by himself, somehow in a huff. Challenged immediately by press and his own team for canning former Spurs coach Bob Hill in 1996 a few months after Popovich (then the Spurs’ GM) should have fired him following a disappointing end to the 1995-96 season – the Spurs went on a 17-game win streak that year under Hill, but barely competed in the postseason. Hill began the 1996-97 campaign on a 3-15 tear prior to coach Popovich taking over, to much ridicule, on the same night that David Robinson was due to return from injury and play his first game of the season.

Robinson later re-injured his foot and missed the rest of the disastrous, 20-win campaign, but Popovich has been there for the two decades’ since – the longest run in North American major professional sports. Hired just a month after Bob Dole set out to seek electoral college votes, Popovich turned from “coach Popovich” and into “Coach Pop” not because his avuncular ways charmed a nation, and not because he was gifted as Tim Duncan as reward for his terrible first season, but because his brilliant touch while slumming in the relatively insipid world of basketball goes recognized in realms far greater than the one he currently works within.

“Currently works within.” There is this:

Popovich Kerr 2020 is a non-partisan, grassroots movement of NBA fans and American citizens that are demanding more mature, thoughtful, and inspiring executive leadership in Washington, DC.

Over the last four months, Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr, along with a few other notable NBA coaches have consistently reacted to our ongoing political malaise with reason, empathy, and candor. We think the American people deserve better than our current political horror show. Who better than two men with a combined 11 championship rings and 4 Coach of the Year awards between them to revive the concept of American exceptionalism?

100% of all net proceeds generated from this store will be donated to the ACLU, Council on American-Islamic Relations, International Rescue Committee, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

The idea behind a Gregg Popovich/Steve Kerr presidential ticket (however technically impossible, Kerr was born in Beirut) would likely pushed ahead in response to both Kerr and Popovich’s recent comments about the ascension of Donald Trump. Had Trump’s Presidential opponent or any other candidate taken office, though, you could bet the same movement would not only still apply, but it would have ground clearance and nearly as many re-tweets and t-shirts sold – Pop and Kerr are that popular, most politicians are that loathed.

(And, seriously, buy a t-shirt. Or a mug. I’m not the President of the United States, so I can say this.)

We can also say this again: the NBA’s Coach of the Year voting is, annually, the hardest to work through. Smitten with the seemingly endless list of knocking MVP candidates in 2016-17? The coaches have that competition every year. EVERY season.

The talent is so supreme at the top that, if anything, it loses points for the sort of R-rated, “aw, shucks” approach they give to the discussion of their talents. Perhaps it is not so much humility that drives coaches away from saying too many good things about themselves, but the chance to move beyond something that bores them and into something far more rewarding than talking with a bunch of sportswriters.

Good thing Mark Cuban likes talking to sportswriters. And it’s a good thing he’s hired Rick Carlisle.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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