Shelf life of NBA coaches getting shorter

Shelf life of NBA coaches getting shorter
June 14, 2013, 6:00 pm
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The firing of George Karl is the latest example of NBA coaches being fired after leading their team's to seasons that used to be considered successful.

(AP Photo)

SAN ANTONIO — Both Miami and San Antonio gave their players the day off Friday, leaving all the questions from the media on this day to be handled by their head coaches.

That is the part of life of an NBA head coach, a career path that, based on recent firings, has little to no job security regardless of how successful a coach might be.

Several coaching openings have cropped up, many among coaches who led teams to the postseason.

Three of the more notable coaches who will not be with their teams next season - Lionel Hollins in Memphis, Vinny Del Negro with the Los Angeles Clippers and the league's Coach of the Year, George Karl of Denver - each led their respective team to a franchise record in wins this season.

And their reward?

Gone.

Every last one of them.

While there's a ton of reasons why each man won't be back, the NBA Finals matchup between San Antonio and Miami shows a sharp contrast from the win-today, gone tomorrow culture that is becoming the norm for NBA head coaching positions.

"It's a terrible state for the profession right now," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "And look, all you have to do‑‑ I mean, we see it differently. The San Antonio organization and the Miami Heat organization. True success in the NBA you must have consistency of culture. When you see that type of turnover over and over and over, it's impossible to create any kind of sustainable consistent culture."

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, the longest active head coach in the NBA, believes part of the problem has to do with owners having unrealistic expectations as to what the job of an NBA head coach entails.

Despite winning more games than any coach in the Clippers' not-so-illustrious history, Del Negro's firing was believed to be in part because of the Clippers' inability to get out of the first round of the playoffs this past season.

"In some cases one might surmise that some owners think it's easier than it really is," said Popovich, who is seeking a fifth NBA title in San Antonio. "It's difficult to win an NBA game, let alone playoff game‑type situation. It's not that easy. You don't just go draft or make this trade or sign this free agent and then it gets done. It's very difficult. And when things don't happen quickly, I think some owners become frustrated. Some even take it personally, I believe. Almost like a little bit of an embarrassment because they've been so successful in their own way and have a hard time understanding this business."

But as Spoelsta alluded to, one of the keys to San Antonio and Miami having been among the better teams in the NBA the past few years, has been their consistency when it comes to having key decision-makers such as the head coach.

"As you think about it," Popovich said, "it seems like it would apply no matter what your business is, if you can have continuity, a good group, a team, so to speak, and all that that entails and keep it in a continuous manner so that it grows more or less upon itself, within itself and the knowledge and understanding continues to grow you have a pretty good understanding.

He added, "You can deal with adversity and you cannot get too pumped up about success but just enjoy it and realize how fleeting it might be. But the change, change, change, change, change thing doesn't really work. You can see that in a lot of organizations."

But continuity doesn't necessarily mean the same people are in the same role over an extended period of time.

Spoelstra's tenure with the Heat began as a video coordinator in 1995. Three promotions over a six-year period followed, with a fourth promotion to head coach coming in 2008.

"Even though we have had four different coaches - myself, Pat (Riley), Ronny (Rothstein) and Stan (Van Gundy), it still has been the same culture and relatively the same philosophy," Spoelstra said. "San Antonio has been the same way for 15 years with Pop in charge.

Spoelstra added, "We don't see it as coincidence. I think it's really a shame for the profession of coaching that it's been so volatile."