by Kent Sterling
Everyone reported yesterday what only made sense – that Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel will return for his fourth full season as coach. It wasn’t news, but a fait accompli.
After two straight appearances in the NBA’s Final Four, it would have been an act of petulance to fire the mostly calm and positive leader, and he will talk to the media today at 11a about the difficulties and triumphs of the past 12 months.
Also talking will be Pacers president Larry Bird. The first question that Bird will be asked will be about Lance Stephenson’s future with the team. Most franchise presidents or GMs would dodge the question with some noncommittal mumbo jumbo that the media would examine word by word to uncover some coded implication that might hint toward the immediate future of the erratic guard.
With Bird, he just sits behind the microphone and tells the truth. We either get exactly what he’s thinking or he tells us it’s none of our business. There are fewer and fewer people willing to tell the truth, but Bird is one of them. A politician afraid of losing his job for revealing too much, he is not. And as far as needing to be liked by the media, well, that’s not an issue either.
The expectations built by a phenomenal start to the season have turned fans’ attitudes toward the Pacers more than a little chapped. Some are carping about Vogel’s “weak” leadership, Stephenson’s antics, Roy Hibbert’s inconsistency, and George Hill’s inability to create offensively. They forget the 56 wins and top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Vogel is exactly the kind of coach that can lead a team for an extended period of time. While fans tend to appreciate seeing employees held publicly accountable for poor decisions or effort, Vogel manages positively. When he needs to correct bad behaviors, it’s done behind closed doors. That’s the way it should be.
Trust is the key to leadership, and it takes only one moment of lashing out to lose that trust. In the NBA, managing through fear and terrorizing is impossible. Guaranteed contracts take away the only meaningful consequence for players, and Vogel is smart enough to treat his players like adults – even when they act like children.
Bird is smart enough to know that.
The Pacers have a combination of young and old players who need different levels of motivation. Guys like David West and Luis Scola now hear the loud ticking of their body’s clocks. After years of dealing with the mental and physical challenges of a full season, those two know how prepare to compete, but they still be to be motivated and led.
Conversely, Paul George and Lance Stephenson are just entering their prime, and still learning how to ignore the good and bad as they focus on what is next. They need to be taught and managed.
Different challenges requiring the same skill set – consistent communication.
Incredibly, Vogel will become the Pacers all-time leader in games coached just prior to the 2015 All Star Break. Hard to believe no one in the NBA history of the franchise coached more than 328 games, but that is the case.
Pacers public address announcer Michael Grady will make an announcement and the home crowd will politely applaud. As with great leaders, Vogel never makes it about himself, and he will probably politely wave to fans and then go back to work.
Leaders focus upon those they are tasked to lead, not on their own accomplishments. That’s Frank Vogel.