Patrick Ewing absolutely and indubitably wants a job as head coach, but his name does not ring out amid the likeliest rumors regarding the New York Knicks' vacancy. Unfortunately for Ewing, his coaching skills do not fit with new team president Phil Jackson's vision for the future, and too many other candidates have distinguished themselves in the opaque sweepstakes for the job.
Ewing told CBS Sports Radio's Eye On Basketball on June 1 that he would "love to go back to New York." As transcribed by the New York Daily News' Bernie Augustine, Ewing continued: "I’m not sure what is going to happen in terms of who they’re going to have fill that void, but if I get a call, I’m ready."
Ewing made his debut as head coach with the Charlotte Bobcats on Nov. 8, 2013 against the Knicks, temporarily sliding over for head coach Steve Clifford, who underwent a procedure to put two stents in his heart just five games into the season.
Ewing told reporters after the 101-91 loss, per Marc Berman of the New York Post: "It was nervous at first but once the game started, I was able to calm down and do my thing."
The Bobcats trailed by only four at the half, then got outscored 34-22 in the third quarter and trailed by 19 early in the fourth, suggesting Ewing's halftime adjustments fell flat. You can hardly rate a head coach on his very first game, but the results were not encouraging.
Also, Charlotte had just beaten the Knicks in New York three days previously. Clifford missed only one game, and by season's end, Charlotte had cracked the playoffs while the Knicks fell short.
The Knicks don't even have a big man with offensive skills worth coaching up, unless Cole Aldrich and Andrea Bargnani count. The primary coaching skill Ewing is perceived to offer does not address the Knicks' needs or the wants of Phil Jackson.
Though Ewing would "love" to return to the sideline at Madison Square Garden, he doesn't fit in the current plan, and a whole handful of more suitable names crowd him off the list anyway. Suggesting otherwise merely pays lip service to the New York legend who made the Knicks a perennial contender.
Jackson seeks a coach who will be "his guy," someone he has previous experience with and who can run the triangle offense. That's why the most common names for Knicks coaches include former Los Angeles Lakers who played under Jackson like Derek Fisher, who has no coaching experience, and Tyronn Lue, who has served as an assistant to Doc Rivers since 2009, plus Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis.
According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski: "As the Los Angeles Lakers remain cool on the pursuit of Derek Fisher as a coaching candidate, the New York Knicks continue to cement themselves as the strong front-runner to hire him, league sources told Yahoo Sports." Now they await Fisher's retirement so talks can begin aboveboard.
By hiring a head coach with no previous experience, Jackson would hope to leave his fingerprints all over the team's resulting success and groom a successful protege in the process. Like Pat Riley's hiring of Erik Spoelstra with the Miami Heat, Jackson wants a fresh prodigy of his own to mentor with the goal of delivering the first Knicks championship since 1973.
Ewing coaching the Knicks to a title would make for an enduring triumph of mythical proportions, but his lack of experience with the triangle all but rules him out for the job.
By contrast, Fred Hoiberg's knowledge of the triangle vaulted his name into consideration for Jackson after Iowa State reached the Sweet 16 this year. Hoiberg posted a tidy 90-47 record in four seasons running the Cyclones. Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal noted one source who said the Knicks would consider Hoiberg despite his not having previous experience with Jackson.
If an ex-Knick does assume coaching duties, former point guard and recently fired Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson would be a much more attractive option than Ewing, especially after leading the Dubs to 51 wins. According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne: "Sources say [Phil] Jackson has not ruled out a sit-down with Knicks fan favorite Mark Jackson."
Does Ewing deserve a shot at head coach in the NBA?
Other long-shot candidates include former Knicks skipper Jeff Van Gundy, who abruptly resigned his position midseason in 2001, and current Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Those seven represent only a portion of the possible candidates more likely to secure the job than Ewing. Triangle aficionados and proven head coaches abound, though the Knicks have slow-played their coaching search after striking out on Steve Kerr only to watch him take Mark Jackson's old job.
Ewing has been passed over for head coaching positions before. In 2012, an old rival interviewed him for the top job in Charlotte but pegged him as an assistant instead, and one with no shot at a promotion. According to the Associated Press:
President of basketball operations Rod Higgins...said that owner Michael Jordan informed Ewing that the team plans to hire someone other than him to replace Paul Silas. Exactly who that is remains to be seen. Higgins says 'Patrick has a lot of great qualities as a coach and he will one day be a head coach.'
Proving the difficulty of the job in Charlotte, eventual-hire Mike Dunlap lasted one season before the team brought in Clifford.
Ewing will continue to wait for his turn to be hired as a head coach despite his wealth of "great qualities." He might even have to descend to the college ranks for a spell if he cares more about head coaching than an assistant's role in the NBA.
Through his intelligence and diligence, Ewing will one day land a gig as head coach somewhere, but installing Jackson's triangle offense at MSG will be someone else's weighty responsibility.