Rick Carlisle is a Jerk
Rick Carlisle is a jerk. Or so this was what we were led to believe in the offseason of 2008 when the Dallas Mavericks were looking to replace recently deposed coach Avery Johnson. The warning signs against hiring Carlisle were all front-and-center. Apparently Carlisle’s handling of players in his coaching stops at Detroit and Indiana earned him a dubious reputation. He was headstrong, a know-it-all and never coddled players. You know, a jerk.
Of course nobody actually called Carlisle a jerk, but just as political figures dance around language as if their life depended on it, the basketball world was trying hard to avoid stating the obvious about Carlisle. Great with X’s and O’s, great work ethic, great pedigree. But, man, the dude’s a jerk.
Do you want a players’ coach or do you want a disciplinarian? This seems to be what it all boils down to in hiring professional coaches. If you want someone easygoing, patient and willing to meet players at their level, maybe you take a flier on Paul Westphal. If you want a ball-buster, screamer, type-A personality, maybe you go with Jerry Sloan. Either style can and has worked. It all depends on the right chemistry. Of course, that starts with the ownership and trickles all the way down to the last guy on the bench. In Detroit, Chuck Daly won a championship as a player’s coach and then Larry Brown many years later as a disciplinarian.
I can honestly say I really can’t remember who else was being considered by Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson in the summer of ’08. Seems like they were kicking the tires on a Van Gundy and maybe former Wizards coach Eddie Jordan (maybe). Whoever else they were considering, it appeared that the Mavs brass knew who they wanted all along as they settled quickly on Carlisle.
All eyes were on Cuban as this was his first real coaching move. The pressure of finding the right man for the job had never been there before. When he bought the team in 2000, he was content to let Don Nelson man the bench until Nelson burned out in 2004. When Nelson stepped down mid-season, the Mavs stayed in-house and hired coach-in-waiting Avery Johnson.
Ah, Avery Johnson.
Avery’s tenure with the Mavs was strange, no way to get around it, and he tends to be a polarizing figure with all Mavs fans.
On one side of the coin, Avery was fun. He was a great interview. He had a high-pitched squeal combined with a swear-free tongue. He was animated, energized and hungry to prove his worth. He pushed this team defensively like it had never been pushed. And, in his first full season at the helm, he got this team to the NBA finals.
It looked like we had a coaching prodigy on our hands.
Yet the flip side has become all too obvious. His offensive game-planning always seemed to lack creativity. His eye for talent was shaky. His growing megalomania and his inability to adapt put him at odds with his players. Finally—the ultimate heresy—he suggested to the Mavs brass that trading away Dirk Nowitzki might be wise, as he thought Dirk was unable to lead a team to the championship.
That right there rightfully sunk his battleship.
Enter Rick Carlisle.
And the “Carlisle = Jerk” narrative looked to gain steam. This guy would never be confused for a player’s coach. How would this work with a veteran team?
Certainly he would never be able to get along with J Kidd, right?
As it happened, not only did they get along, he gave Kidd the reins to the offense.
Would he be able to maintain the new-found defensive intensity while diversifying the offense?
Okay, but could he help get Dirk to the next level?
See Championship, 2012.
More importantly, could he do what Joe Dumars deemed him unworthy of doing all those years ago in Detroit when Dumars sacked Carlisle in favor of Larry Brown in pursuit of the title? Bottom line—could Carlisle win it all?
Carlisle might have been a jerk at some point, though that hasn’t been seen in his stint in Big D. But the question remains, which is he—player’s coach or disciplinarian. Either way he’s no idiot. He can push buttons, draw up the perfect play and change on the fly. His cool head, supreme confidence and fearlessness will cement him as not only a good coach, but the greatest coach in Dallas Mavericks history.