After almost a decade with the organization, including 5+ seasons as head coach, Frank Vogel was fired on Thursday. The 42-year-old won 58 percent of his games for Indiana, twice took the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals and once pushed the LeBron-led Miami Heat to seven games.
And now he’s gone.
“I think it’s insane,” CBSSports.com NBA writer Matt Moore said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I just can’t get my brain around what’s going on. These situations are tricky. Sometimes afterwards – a lot of times afterwards – the players will come out and then bury the coach in the press, saying there were locker room problems, (people) didn’t get along, there were serious schisms. Or the front office will leak stuff, so don’t be surprised if a lot of stuff comes out in the next couple of days. But just from a process-and-results standpoint, he was a smart coach who made good decisions, who helped players develop. He turned players that were average and had been terrible elsewhere into really solid and good players in Indiana. He won a lot of games, he was good at making adjustments in the middle of a series, he never got too up or too down, he wasn’t too much of a hot head – it’s really inexplicable that the Pacers would really think that this team should have been better. This team should have won in the 30s and Vogel helped drag them, along with Paul George, to 45 wins and the 7-seed and (pushed) the Raptors in the first round. I’m just perplexed by this decision.”
Larry Bird, it seems, felt the organization needed a change – and perhaps we should trust his judgment. After all, Bird, aside from winning three MVPs, two Finals MVPs and three NBA championships as a player, is a former NBA Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year. The guy has a pretty intuitive feel for what’s working – and not working – on a basketball team.
Shouldn’t we give him the benefit of the doubt?
Well, yes and no.
“I think he’s surrounded himself with smart people,” Moore said. “If you asked me, outside of this decision, has Bird done a good job in Indiana, the answer would be a resounding yes. It’s why this decision seems so out of place. This isn’t a matter of an incompetent organization once again making another dreadful move. This isn’t the Kings. Larry Bird has always been fantastic and obviously he knows more about basketball than any of us will ever, ever, ever, ever know. But if you really feel like he’s not the guy, why didn’t you make this move earlier? Why didn’t you make the move earlier so that maybe you could make a run at Luke Walton or Tom Thibodeau? Why not get ahead of the search? Now the replacement candidates are really worrisome. There’re some very worrisome names that have started popping up out of Indiana as people that could come in and do this job, and Vogel is going to be very highly sought after by some of the available gigs.”
Moore said Jeff Van Gundy would be a good replacement for Vogel – though it would be difficult to get him to leave his TV gig – and that Brian Shaw brings certain things to the table.
“There are ways in which this can work out,” Moore said, “and a year from now we can look at it and – if not the same way we looked at Steve Kerr and Mark Jackson – at least say, ‘You know what? It worked out in the end. Bird was right.’ There are lines that lead to there. It’s the overall evaluation of Vogel that I still really struggle with.”