Famously, former Knicks and Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy won’t speak with nor comment on coaching jobs midseason, or any other time an incumbent coach is still with a team pre-firing. That policy stems from the spring of 1999, when MSG openly courted free agent coach Phil Jackson to take over for Van Gundy as Knicks coach, with the Knicks struggling to make the Eastern playoff bracket. Jeff bristled at Jackson interviewing for the job while Van Gundy was still in the postseason hunt, and though Van Gundy got the last laugh by dragging that year’s Knicks team to the NBA Finals, he’s sticking to his guns and not having any contact with a team while a current head (or even interim) coach is under contract.
This is why the recent New York Post report of the Knicks being interested in Van Gundy was somewhat laughable, because while relations have improved between the 1999 incident and Van Gundy’s admittedly rash 2001 midseason resignation as head coach, he’s still not going to have any meaningful much less exploratory discussions about returning to New York with Mike Woodson still running the team. Van Gundy was pained to even have to address it in radio interviews that followed the Post’s report, stressed that he had to answer to innuendo while Woodson was fighting for his job.
This is probably why ESPN lifted Van Gundy as analyst for Wednesday night’s Knicks/Chicago Bulls contest at Madison Square Garden. It’s a smart, tactful move that all should appreciate. From the Post:
Due to a late change, former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy won’t be at the Garden to broadcast Wednesday night’s Knicks-Bulls game as Mike Woodson broils on the hot seat.
ESPN spokesman Ben Cafardo gave no specific explanation for Van Gundy being pulled, telling The Post the assignments are “always subject to change.”
“We’re always reexamining our commentating assignments,” Cafardo said.
Van Gundy’s a brilliant basketball mind, but our main frustration with him as ESPN/ABC’s lead analyst is his propensity to go off on radio chat show-styled rants about the league that have nothing to do with the game he’s charged with documenting. Personally, I much prefer listening to Hubie Brown stay on task and discuss the plays unfolding in front of him, rather than listen to Van Gundy sound off on the NBA’s most-recent drama du jour.
When Van Gundy does discuss the game in front of him? He’s fantastic. This is also why it’s better for us as a viewer not to be subject to Van Gundy having to talk for two and a half hours about why Mike Woodson (or any other beleaguered coach) should keep his job, rather than the play that just happened. We have been spared the Jeff Van Gundy Show, in this instance.
(Oh, wait. He’s being replaced by Jon Barry. Never mind. Lose-lose, I suppose.)
This doesn’t take away from this acting as an intelligent move on ESPN’s part, and an honorable one on Van Gundy’s end of things. Jeff has likely turned down all manner of choice coaching gigs in the years since leaving Houston because of his personal policy, and we admire his sensibilities in this matter. It only takes a dozen or so dingbats to start up a “JEFF VAN GUN-DY” chant should the Knicks go down by double-figures against the limping Bulls, and that’s an embarrassment nobody deserves.
It’s a policy that Turner Sports, who often are pitch perfect with their NBA coverage, should learn from. Because while we loved the video they previewed their NBA season with, replacing Mike Woodson with Phil Jackson as a hypothetical “dream” scenario was not cool in the slightest:
Kudos to Van Gundy for encouraging the right move, and to ESPN for understanding. Even if they’ll never cop to it on record.
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