Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Finding the right fit... for the coach and the team

Just landed in Philadelphia on the way to Greece and thought I'd get in a post before the long flight. On the plane from LA to Philly, I read a couple of articles.

First, I read where the coach of the NHL's NY Islanders has stepped down citing "philosophical differences" with the team's GM. Said the GM: "We weren't on the same page in certain areas."

At the same time, Ric Bucher has a piece in this week's ESPN The Magazine titled "NBA GMs aren't just looking for coaches. They want companions."

Bucher's article quotes on NBA GM who says:

"If GMs honestly told you the No. 1 thing they want in a head coach, it would be, 'Someone I can work with. You're going to see fewer and fewer coaches with reputations for being stubborn."

The article goes on:

Some will say you get what you pay for. Put another way: Can you put a price on experience? Curry and Del Negro will be compared with Skiles and Mike D'Antoni, vets who are in new jobs partly because they clashed with their previous GMs. "First-time guys usually struggle because they're often with really bad teams," says a West GM. "Not Vinny and Michael. We'll see what matters more, experience or the team you inherit."

It's so important for a GM to hire his type of coach, both from a personal and professional standpoint. The interview process should be more about philosophy -- from both sides -- than X's and O's. That's not to say that you don't cover the brass tacks, but spending time on vision and big-picture stuff is critical.

As a coach or any professional, it's important not to be active versus passive. Instead of simply sitting and answering questions during an interview, do your own "interview" of sorts, asking specific questions to the GM and owner to make sure it's a good fit and that you're on the same page.

Finally, as a young coach interviewing for head coaching jobs, you can become so focused on "winning" the interview and getting the job that it's difficult to step back and see it objectively, i.e., to weigh the pros and cons.

The key is finding a fit that's right for both sides, including style of play, team identity, and short- and long-term goals for the team. To know if the fit is right, you've got to ask questions:

What are the expectations in the first half of Year 1? What are the goals heading into Year 2? Which players figure into the club's long-term plans? What's the plan to improve the roster? Are we building through the draft or free agency or both? What's the thinking on the staff? How committed is the owner to winning? How much patience is afforded to the coach in developing young players? What would be considered a "successful" season in terms of wins next season? And so on.

The idea is that the interview include a candid discussion about all aspects of the team's basketball operations, as well as areas that influence basketball operations. Even then, because you're eager to get the job, it's easy to tune out or gloss over things you may not want to hear or that you disagree with. Resist the urge.