Opinions: Should the Pacers Keep Frank Vogel?

The Indiana Pacers head into the offseason with many questions after a relatively successful end to the 2010-11 season culminating with a first round playoff loss to the Chicago Bulls. Larry Bird’s future is about to be decided after he meets with owner Herb Simon. The tide has turned and most experts are projecting Bird to return to the team. That means the next big question is should the Pacers keep interim coach Frank Vogel?

Vogel got a lot of love nationally throughout the Bulls series. In fact, a Facebook page has sprung up that has become a campaign headquarters of sort for Vogel. It seems that mainstream thinking is that the 37-year-old coach has done more than enough to return to the blue and gold. Here’s a sampling of the some of those comments.

Chris Mannix from SI had this to say:

It’s true, Bird will have options. The pool of head coaching candidates is a deep one. He could go for the veteran hand [Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Adelman, Mike Brown], the rising star [Mike Malone, Mike Budenholzer, Kelvin Sampson] or the experienced assistant [Lawrence Frank, Mike Woodson, Dwane Casey]. He could tap into the TV booth [Kevin McHale, Mark Jackson] or dip into the college ranks.

His choices are good. But there is one that stands out: Vogel.

Mannix then argues why Vogel should be retained:

“He simplified things, which was good for that team,” said an Eastern Conference executive. “He was always prepared and the players responded to him.”

There’s something else Bird will have to consider: Money. The Pacers ranked 27th in Forbes’ most recent team valuations; the publication called Indiana “among the most troubled organizations in the NBA.” It attracted an NBA-low 13,538 fans per game last season, the fifth straight year it’s ranked in the bottom five in attendance.

Why is that important? Because experienced coaches like Van Gundy, Adelman or Brown could command between $3 and $5 million per season, a price tag the Pacers are unlikely to pay. Even Frank and Woodson made in excess of $2 million in their last coaching stops. Indiana won’t get Vogel for less than $1 million, but entering a potentially lockout-shortened season, it might not have to pay much more than that, either.

Indeed, reasons not to retain Vogel are few and far between. Indiana has a pretty good thing going. It’s core group — Hansbrough, George, Hibbert, Darren Collison and Danny Granger — is 28 or younger and under the team’s control for at least the next two seasons. They will lop some $30 million off the cap this summer and Bird has made it clear that if another team is looking to sell a star, he’s interested in buying.

Vogel has a rapport with his players. They trust him, believe in him. And he believes in them. On his way to dinner with his coaching staff Thursday night, Vogel’s mind was already at work with ways to improve the team next season.

Meanwhile, Rob Mahoney of The New York Times NBA Blog Off the Dribble had this to say:

This series was marked by not only (Paul) George’s true arrival on the N.B.A. scene after a rocky rookie season, but also that of Frank Vogel, the Pacers’ interim coach for 38 games. Everything that George accomplished in this series was possible because of his coach’s insight, preparation and audacity.

Vogel had the nerve to allow George, a rookie swingman who had played 61 games as a pro, and started just 19 times, to defend Rose, the league’s likely most valuable player. More important, Vogel didn’t overreact to Rose’s 39-point and 36-point games — both Pacer losses – to start the series, as he stuck to the game plan that had given his team a fighting chance.

Desperation can act as a siren’s call to some, but Vogel was having none of it. Four of the games in this series ended in a coin flip as a result of Vogel’s strategic commitment, a great triumph for a No. 8 seed contending with what many thought to be the best team in the league.

Indiana’s players deserve credit for their effort and execution throughout the series, but Vogel proved himself to be a resourceful coach who doesn’t just put his players in position to succeed but also discovers new avenues to success.

In game five of the Bulls series, current TNT NBA analyst and former Phoenix Suns President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Steve Kerr used his forum to say this:

“It’s a no-brainer to re-sign (interim coach) Frank Vogel,” Kerr said. “They play hard, they play a lot of people and they play with a lot of energy.”

Eric Freeman of Yahoo! Sports Ball Don’t Lie had this to say:

So it stands to reason that Vogel and the Pacers would like to remove the “interim” tag from his title. And that is exactly what’s likely to happen soon.

All parties want this to happen — Vogel, the front office, the players, and the fans — which means a deal will almost certainly get done soon. Vogel deserves it, too. He made the Pacers relevant and exciting again when they had been punchlines for several seasons. That’s no small feat.

However, it’s important to note that Vogel is also a free agent. If a deal doesn’t get done soon, it’s possible to imagine another team with a vacancy — like, say, the Rockets or Warriors — making a gigantic offer for Vogel’s services. That might be seen as poor form, considering the Pacers are Vogel’s team right now, but no one ever said finding a good coach was a moral pursuit.

Yet that course of events would be unlikely. Expect Vogel on the sidelines next season and several more.

Ok… back to reality.

Look, I think Vogel did a good job with this team. He will probably be the coach next year. I have not seen anyone credible make a strong argument otherwise. There’s no denying the fact that he got the Pacers to the playoffs. That’s something that Jim O’Brien could not do in his tenure.

However, let’s interrupt the euphoria for a moment to ask a few tough questions.

Is the 20-18 finish to the season just a short-term bounce that was not an accurate representation of Vogel’s abilities?

The offense that we saw down the stretch consisted of a few very simple plays and became easy to defend down the stretch of tight games. Does Vogel have a real, cohesive offense that he will install for next year?

What defensive philosophy is Vogel going to adhere to that will best utilize the players on the roster?

Can Vogel be critical of players that don’t perform in big situations? For instance, when Roy Hibbert is close to a no show in four of five playoff games maybe the positive reinforcement simply isn’t working. Would Vogel be willing to jump on Hibbert if that’s what it takes to get him right?

I really think the answers to these questions are more important than the short-term excitement created by the competitive series with the Bulls. The reality is that if Vogel is hired we won’t know the answers to any of these questions until next season… but that doesn’t mean that you don’t ask the questions during his interview.

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Tags: Frank Vogel Herb Simon Larry Bird

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