The New Jersey Nets announced their new head coach yesterday, and apparently, the only person who appears to be concerned about it is their new head coach.
Nets General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe was introduced as the Nets’ head coach yesterday after getting President Rod Thorn’s vote of confidence. Kiki unfortunately, didn’t echo the same confidence. Citing coaching inexperience, Vandeweghe encouraged the Nets to grab former head coach Del Harris to help smooth the transition. Harris is now on board as an assistant, and Vandeweghe will lead the charge with Harris’ guidance (although when you are 0-18, it’s less of a charge and more of a limp).
Vandeweghe’s reluctance to coach the Nets surprised some. Vandeweghe after all was the man who helped turn around the Denver Nuggets, and was brought to the Nets to help transform another young team. This is his team. It’s his mess. Why would he not want to clean it up?
Oh, that’s right. HE’S NOT A COACH.
Even in the sport of baseball where there is a “Manager,” who coaches the players and makes in game decisions, there is still a “General Manager,” who makes trades and acquisitions, and is far more responsible for scouting and building. They are two separately defined roles. And we have seen, time and time again, in every sport: Great GMs can be awful coaches. And great coaches (and former players at that) are some of the worst GMs you will ever see.
Firing your head coach and putting in the GM is basketball’s equivalent to starting a record label, firing your a-list talent, and asking your producer to start singing into the mic. It is a totally different task.
Despite the fact the “clean up your own mess” technique seems ridiculous, it has become the way that a good chunk of NBA teams handle a regime change, especially with mid-season firings.
Vandeweghe wasn’t even the first GM told to clean up his mess this season. The New Orleans Hornets fired Byron Scott, replacing him with GM Jeff Bower. Last season, the 76ers replaced Maurice Cheeks with GM Tony DiLeo. Last season also saw the demise of the McHale era in Minnesota; but not before he replaced the fired Randy Whittman on an interim basis.
And of course, your and my favorite GM coaching blunder…Isiah Thomas was named the head coach of the Knicks after the bizarre Larry Brown experiment left New York directionless.
The next thing you may be wondering is “how have these teams performed with a GM as coach?” Well if their job status is any indication, the answer is: “poorly.” In fact it’s unanimous. Every GM to take over head coaching duties since 2006 has been fired. And it’s mostly because they aren’t coaches.
There is only one exception to this rule, if you can even call it that. Pat Riley added to his overwhelming workload in 2006 (which consisted of financially ruining the Miami Heat and spiritually ruining Stan Van Gundy) by becoming the head coach of the Miami Heat after Stan Van Gundy “mysteriously retired.” As you may know, the Heat won the championship that year. But after two dismal years following the big win and one of the worst salary cap debacles ever, Pat Riley decided that coaching was no longer his thing, and hired Erik Spoelstra.
So when it’s the All-Star break, and the Nets have less than 10 wins, and you are ready to call Kiki Vandeweghe a bad coach; remember this: Kiki Vandeweghe is not a coach. Kiki Vandeweghe did not want to be a coach. In fact, I’d be willing to guarantee you that if Kiki Vandeweghe’s contract said “you may have to become the head coach,” he would have turned down the deal to join the Nets.
The move to make a GM a team’s head coach has always been and will always be a fluff move that allows ownership to have their cake and eat it too. Fans will roar in approval that they are trying to bring new blood into the organization, while ownership really just waits another season to clean house and counts your dollars in the process.
And of course with that said, go Nets.