Friday, August 8, 2008

How a coach gets dumb overnight

Should've posted this article sooner.  I printed out a copy from the New York Times when it ran a week or two ago, but tossed it in my bag and just came across it again tonight.

The article is about how a coach's fortunes depend, in great part, on his players.  The author asks:

Was Auerbach really a genius, or did his reputation arise from the banner headlines created by sensational players like Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and John Havlicek?  The same might be said for (Red) Holzman, whose starting five in the 1972-73 championship season were Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley and Dave DeBusschere — all future Hall of Famers.

With that talent, most any basketball coach grounded in the fundamentals of the game can live the life of Riley, whose Showtime teams of the 1980s produced four championships with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy.

Riley eventually coached the Knicks. He wore that same confident grin, the same expensive suits and the same hair gel, but Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and John Starks, his new stars, did not shine nearly as brightly as those he left behind in Los Angeles.

I don't think there's any question that Auerbach, Holtzman, and Riley were among the best coaches the game of basketball has ever seen.

It's also fair to say their teams included some of the greatest players the game has ever seen. At the same time, coaches for these teams don't get nearly enough credit for how they manage that talent.  From talking with fans, it sounds like they believe all the coach of a really talented team has to do is sit back and watch the games.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

The author writes of talking recently with Kevin Loughery, who coached the ABA's New York Nets to two ABA titles in the mid-'70s and went on to coach the Hawks, Bulls, Bullets, and Heat:

Loughery...seemed to have a hoops I.Q. as high as Julius Erving’s Afro when Dr. J was leading his Nets to two titles in the 1970s.

Just before the 1976-77 season — the first season after the A.B.A. merged with the N.B.A. — the financially troubled Nets sold Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers. Without Erving, Loughery’s defending champions fell from the A.B.A. throne to the N.B.A. cellar with a 22-60 record.

“Suddenly,” Loughery said with a sad chuckle, “I got dumb overnight.”