The tenuous tenure of an NBA head coach

SpoelstraGregg Popovich became the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs in 1996.  Doc Rivers began coaching the Celtics in ‘04.  Erik Spoelsta started his tenure with the Miami Heat in 2008, five years ago.  That makes Spoelstra the third most tenured coach in the NBA.

That’s right.  If you want job stability, the NBA head coaching circuit is not the place to look.

In the past month, George Karl, head coach of the Denver Nuggets and 2012-13 NBA Coach of the Year, was sent packing.  Lionel Hollins, who brought the Memphis Grizzlies to their first ever Western Conference Finals, is now also looking for work.  Vinny Del Negro coached the Los Angeles Clippers to their best record in franchise history.  He’s currently polishing up his resume.  PJ Carlesimo won 49 games with the Brooklyn Nets this season, their first ever season in the borough.  He’s now receiving a paycheck from ESPN as an NBA analyst.  Last month, the Milwaukee Bucks made the playoffs.  They fired their coach, and his predecessor, within a matter of months.  Apparently, making the playoffs is hazardous to one’s career.

PJ Carlesimo and Deron WilliamsDuring a recent on-air interview, Carlesimo said it best.  He tried to explain why so many qualified individuals had been relieved of their duties.  To paraphrase a man who has coached in Portland, Golden State, San Antonio, Seattle, Oklahoma City, Toronto, Brooklyn, not to mention bringing a Seton Hall team to the national championship game and earning a gold medal with the original Dream Team, upon being fired by the Nets, Carlesimo responded that he didn’t think the owner had realistic expectations.  That probably holds true for most of the owners in the league.

Now, this is obviously not something you would want to tell your employer.  Imagine going into a job interview, suit and tie all dapper, then telling your prospective boss you’re not going to succeed.  I’m pretty sure a callback is not in your immediate future.

But Carlesimo is right.   NBA championships come only to the select few.

Since 1983, that’s thirty years ago, only ten men have won NBA titles as head coach: KC Jones, Pat Riley, Chuck Daly, Phil Jackson, Rudy Tomjanovich, Gregg Popovich, Larry Brown, Doc Rivers, Rick Carlisle and Erik Spoelstra.  And four of those guys have only won one!

Detroit PistonsIt’s not the easiest thing in the world to do and if you want to, you better be lucky enough to have a superstar in your lineup.  All of those men were fortunate enough to coach the most dominant players of their generation, i.e., Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, meaning if you want to crack that elite list, you better find yourself some talent.

“Unrealistic expectations,” as Carlesimo put it, have spawned the coaching carousel that is the National Basketball Association.

Gregg Popovich IS the San Antonio Spurs.  He will never be fired.  Even after Tim Duncan retires, Pop might continue to give it a go but he’ll likely ride off into the sunset, taking on a cushy office position.  He already makes their personnel decisions.  Spoelstra will also likely continue to coach in Miami, at least as long as LeBron is there and Pat Riley doesn’t ride him for underachieving.  Nobody else’s job in the league, however, is safe.  Not a single NBA soul.

Win and you’re in.  Lose and expect a phone call.  That’s the way of the NBA world these days.

This isn’t the NFL or Major League Baseball where the majority of teams start the season with a clean slate and a legitimate opportunity at a championship.  This is the National Basketball Association where only a handful of teams can win.  Those teams have superstars and far more realistic expectations.

After nineteen years in the league as a star point guard, Jason Kidd was hired to succeed PJ Carlesimo as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets.  His team boasts two of the league’s superstars but as PJ hinted, that’s probably not enough to win a championship.  I sure hope Kidd knows what he’s getting himself into.

40 thoughts on “The tenuous tenure of an NBA head coach

  1. Pingback: The tenuous tenure of an NBA head coach - BallHyped Blog Network, NBA | BallHyped Sports Blogs

  2. I really don’t understand the thinking of some of the GM’s and owners. The one thing that sticks out to me about the successful organizations is they have stability in the coaching ranks. Find someone you like and stick with them. While you might not win that elusive championship, you will have a much better chance if you don’t change your coach/system every year or two.

    BTW. Go spurs go….!!!!

  3. Fabes….

    I mean, I get it. They own the team. They expect to win. So why settle for anything less?

    But I agree with you. Juggling coaches and instability is hardly a recipe for success.

  4. Doc Rivers started with the Celtics in 2004. He started coaching in 1999 with the Magic.

  5. Well you just may get him back. I think he’s got one foot out the door in Boston. He won’t commit to the Celtics until he knows that KG and Pierce are staying. Doc wants to keep the band together.

  6. Chris

    Of the sixteen teams to make this season`s postseason soiree , eleven general managers took it upon themselves to fire their head coaches of the teams in question . And this year , there have been the greatest number of firings in NBA history for a single season (thirteen) . There is more turnover there (NBA) and than in the entire Congress during an election cycle , from a percentage standpoint . . LOL,LOL, LOL !!!

    If at all interested ? Let me know what you think ?

    A Plan of action tat just does not seem to be working

    Struggling for the truth or what we perceive to be the truth .Are you not amused?

    Jason Kidd is now the new head coach of the Nets ? So there may well be hope for Brittney Griner to be the first female to play in the NBA when it is all said and done ? Kidd can engineer a trade that sends Kris Humphries from the Nets to some forsaken WNBA franchise .

    tophatal ………….

  7. Agreed – this is irrational, counter-productive BS and probably just for PR. Even odder though is that once your in the accepted NBA coaches club, you will find another job irrelevant of your winning %. It seems that the same group circulates and past performance is irrelevant. They even judge the “winningest” coach by total #’s instead of a %! This way the “loosingest” coach can be the “winningest”– Lenny’s goin’ hi-low! It’s odd how the winners get fired but stranger to me how often the loosers get hired!

  8. Snake…

    The Celtics are a perfect example of unrealistic expectations.

    I know you’re biased so we may differ on this but do you honestly think that team as currently comprised, with a healthy Rajon Rondo and Pierce and KG another year older, have a legit shot to win a championship?

  9. Jefe…

    The coaching recycling has actually gotten a little better than back in the day.

    Remember when Doug Moe would just float around from team to team? I mean, is there a team that guy didn’t coach?

  10. With everyone healthy next season, the Celtics have the same chance as this season’s Spurs. Its not about age, its about health. Duncan will be 38 next season and he’ll still be a great player. I think that if the Heat could pull off a trade of Bosh for Duncan, they would do it in a NY minute.

  11. Kidd is said to be putting together an All Star caliber cast of coaching assistants for his staff with the Nets . Rumor has it , that Kim Kardashian won`t be offering her services in any capacity , in order not to alienate Kanye or embarrass your namesake Kris umpheries . Mind you they (Brooklyn Nets) l will still seek to keep Joe Jonson`s bloated contract in tact .

    If the Spurs take game four tonight , don`t expect to hear , I told you so !

    So Chad Ochocinco not content with being jailed for ninety days for violating is probation , thought it would be good spank the @ss of his female defense attorney while appearing in front of the Broward County Court judge in Ft Lauderdale ? What part being a dumb moron is it that Och` simply doesn`t understand ? “ ~~ Your honor , I meant to grab er bosom but my hand slipped . LOL,LOL,LOL !!!

    Snake Scrap metal for Bosh ? Why bother in the first place ? Chris Bosh`s time in Miami has been a complete waste . He only turns up for every third game for Miami , if that .

    Not one , not two , not three but we`re looking to win multiple titles . I believe that was the bar these stooges set for themselves . Bunch of conceited morons (Wade , Bosh and LBJ ) !

    tophatal ……………

  12. Al…

    An all-star caliber collection of assistants? Well, there are plenty of them out there. But how much respect will Kidd get being a rookie with all of those guys having years of experience?

    Tonight’s gonna be a great game. I think you’ll see the Heat come out with a little more determination. If not, this thing is as good as over.

  13. Getting fired is nothing to PJ…He survived Latrell’s neck hug, he’ll survive being replaced by J-Kidd…I just hope he doesn’t sign on to be a Nets assistant…Kidd doesn’t have the best track record of keeping his hands to himself either….I feel for PJ if he ever runs into Wayne Brady.

    Spolestra the 3rd longest tenured…Hard to fathom.

  14. True, Bleed.

    PJ has been passed around more than a funnel at a frat party.

    How about that Game Four. Was that not the best game you’ve seen all season?

  15. Al…

    I just wanna know if Kidd is going to get the immediate respect of his players, and his assistant coaching staff, and ownership for that matter.

  16. Chris

    We`re talking the Nets for a start and how much respect would you give that team to begin with ? Deron Williams ______ is an infantile kid and a lying sack of crap , who has been a coach killer lacking a great deal of maturity . Yet everyone carries on as if he deserves a great deal of respect ? How so ?

    Williams prior to this hire , was calling for the Nets to ire Jerry Sloan , the very same coach he disrespected in Utah . Williams is a hypocritical douche-bag

    Kidd had better watch his back when dealing with Deron Williams .

    Your thoughts on the rumor mill of Doc Rivers , Garnett and Pierce going to Lob City in excange for Blake Griffin , DeAndre Jordan , Eric Bledsoe and two first round draft picks. Also being factored into this mega-deal is Dwight Howard also joining the Clippers .

    Alex Cobb was lucky to survive that line drive to the head , don`t you think ?

    tophatal ………

  17. Coaches will always have a vulnerable position in the league as long as owners of teams continue to have a mindset that their team will win even though the roster doesn’t support it.

  18. Chris

    Does Miami now have a serious problem ? They have not won back to back games this postseason in a series and it as been several games since they achieved that feat in the regular season .

    Once again it was all about LeBron for Miami , as his sidekicks , Wade and Bosh simply didn`t show up or contribute anything on Sunday night .

    Those sputtering sounds you hear , are those of at of the Miami Heat fans and their players now defecating on themselves .

    Stephen A Smith seems perplexed , as he just cannot remove his lips from LeBron James` sphincter to give te public a succinct analysis as to why his man-crush (LBJ) is unable to lead Miami to what he states was a guaranteed triumph in this series in six games .

    tophatal ………….

  19. Al…

    Considering how the Miami Heat have played against San Antonio and how relatively weak the East was, how far away from being a deep playoff contender do you think the Nets actually are?

    And re: the NBA rumor mill, I say let it spin!

    Doc and KG to LA? Blake for Howard? That kinda talk just makes me giddy and looking forward to the off-season.

    Agents, get to work! Next question!

  20. Jed…

    Let’s just put it this way.

    After watching the way the Heat have played in these Finals, Spoelstra might not be the third most tenured coach in the league for very long.

  21. Al…

    The Heat’s defense, and their determination, has been absolutely horrible.

    They just don’t try.

    When they do try, they win. When they don’t, the Spurs, for lack of a better term, stick it in their ass.

    Seriously, would anybody have thought Danny Green would bear the title NBA Finals MVP?

    Miami’s defensive efforts and lack of consistency, desire and discipline have been a total disappointment.

  22. Bleed…

    I just wanna see some good basketball and from what I could tell, Game Four was the best played game so far.

    Maybe Game One would rank a close second.

    The rest have been blowouts.

  23. With no real vested interest in either team, I have alterior motives for wanting the Spurs to win. Not only am I a Western conference guy, but if Miami loses it increases the chances of LeBron bolting to come to the Lakers. Chances are slim to none on that, but I always take the optimistic PRPL&GOLD angle. “Best played games” for teams I give a hoot about be damned. All Lakers all the time.

  24. KSP…

    Would you say that you’re intrigued enough that, if you were the owner of said franchise, you’d hire a guy with zero experience?

    Because THAT would be intrigued.

  25. Oh yeah, no worries there. He wouldn’t have to be the dagger guy here. His facilitating talent and all around game, combined with Kobe constantly pushing him would be enough.

  26. REV–
    Well, sometimes, a guy can knock an interview out of the park, plus the familiarity with the players and the franchise probably helps, too. Sometimes, these new guys with no coaching experience pan out. There are plenty of examples in all sports. Heck, look at Matheny in St. Louis.

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